Everyone remembers the excitement and jitters of the first day of school. However, for students and their families stepping through the doors of a school in a new country and culture, these can be particularly nerve-wracking. Four international schools offer advice on the best approaches and the most important thing to have on hand on the first day. (Hint: It’s more than just the usual set of school supplies!)

Matthew Parr, Head of School for Nagoya International School and current President of the Japan Council of International Schools, advises students to relax, be open and to remember that they aren’t the only new student that day. International schools are home to a transient community of students, one in which saying hello and goodbye is part of the routine.

“You will probably find your school a very welcoming and friendly place. Give it time and you will find that gradually ‘being friendly’ turns into having ‘friendships’ and often friendships that will last a lifetime,” he says. “Don’t focus on how many years you have in Japan — focus on the here and now and investing in your life, friendships and relationships in your new school. You will soon feel like you belong, and you will love it!”

“Open-mindedness is really important. If a student is not happy or not accepting of differences, international school might be difficult.”

Matt Wilce, Director of Communications for the American School in Japan (ASIJ) recommends that new students get involved in an activity that interests them as a way to ease the transition, while Cathy Endo, School Head at Saint Maur in Yokohama, emphasizes openness.

IMG_1863“Open-mindedness is really important,” she says. “If a student is not happy or not accepting of differences, international school might be difficult.”

Endo points out that the student body at Saint Maur represents 41 different countries, some of whom are returning Japanese and dual nationals. There is plenty of academic support, Endo adds, but academics aren’t the only important thing in a student’s life.

“If a student is happy and has friends, they will be successful,” she says.

Dr. Detlef Fechner, Head of School for the German School in Tokyo and Yokohama, suggests arriving ready to meet whatever challenges lie ahead. “The best thing,” he says, “is when the student starts with all of his or her senses and concentrates.”

James Machin, School Manager for Kincarn International School, agrees that students need to be focused and serious, but he also suggests another important item that he believes can make all the difference.

“A sense of humor,” says Machin. “If you don’t go in too serious, then you can ask the questions you wouldn’t normally ask.” That kind of curiosity, he says, benefits everyone. “Lessons go quicker and you can build and develop your knowledge. If you do that, you can have a lot of fun.”