When moving to another country to start a new life, one of the main concerns people with families have is how well their kids are going to adapt to their new schools. Do they have a good command of the country’s language? Are they going to make new friends easily? Will they be happy with the move?
When it was time for us to move to Ottawa, I too had these thoughts in mind, like anybody else, but I thought that instead of talking about my worries, it would be better to think positively. My husband and I just wanted our three daughters to look at the move, including studying in a Canadian school, like a big adventure.
And they took the whole thing like that. They were excited to live in Ottawa for a year or two (that’s what we thought initially). No one was really sad about leaving Peru. They had been in Canada before for vacations and they liked it, so they were eager to experience life in Canada. https://ottawaisnotboring.com/2020/06/15/how-i-ended-up-living-in-ottawa/
My husband had made all the arrangements for them to enter school and the first thing we had to do was to go with them to a school board office (in our case the English catholic one) so they could be assessed.
They studied in a good bilingual school in Lima, and the assessment proved that their command of English was good. They also had a mathematics assessment, and that also turned out fine.
Then the big day to go to school came for our daughters. The younger ones started school on January 11th while the eldest on the 12th. They were kind of nervous obviously, because the idea of being the new foreign kid and starting school in the middle of the school year, was not the best situation.
Their experiences that very first day of school were so different for the three of them, and that is what I’m going to recount.
Child 1 (12 years old going to Grade 7)
I took my daughter to school that morning. She looked fine; not really nervous. I remember she didn’t want me to get out of the car. She said good bye and walked from the parking lot to the entrance.
I was anxious the whole day waiting for my daughter to come back home and tell me all about her first day at her new school. When she came back, she didn’t look happy at all.
I walked with her to her bedroom and when we were alone, she burst into tears. She just repeated that she wanted to go back to Peru. I was afraid she had been the victim of some sort of bad bullying, but it was the opposite, nobody cared about her.
She told me her teacher told the class that she was the new student and asked everybody to take some time during the day to introduce themselves to her, but nobody did it. The only girl who she talked with that day was the student that the teacher had chosen to be her guide.
Eventually that girl introduced her to her friends and my daughter started to sit at the same table during lunchtime but she didn’t feel any affinity with them. She felt like a fish out of the water.
One thing that surprised her the most was how disrespectful some kids were. She noticed that they didn’t listen to the teacher, and they were just focused on their cellphones. At that time cell phones were allowed inside the classrooms in Ontario.
My daughter begged us to change her to another school. Seeing her so unhappy was really hard for us, especially for my Canadian husband who had thought that the kids could have a happy life in Canada.
Two months later, we changed her to another school, where, fortunately, she had a better experience. However, the move itself was tough for her, and for many months she felt sad and just dreamed of being back in Peru.
One of our relatives, a retired Canadian teacher, had told us that the move was going to be difficult for my eldest, because of her age and because kids in middle school are tough ones. Her predictions were correct.
Child 2 (10 years old going to Grade 5)
My second daughter was really nervous on her first day of school. She told me that, but even if she hadn’t told me, you could see the anguish in her eyes.
That day was a snow day. It had snowed a lot, so the school buses were cancelled and that meant that only half the kids went to school. My daughter was introduced to half of the class and the next day she finally met all her classmates.
When she told me about her first day at school, she recounted it with a lot of excitement. She had met a group of girls who seemed very friendly and immediately they invited her to join her group in Hangouts.
My second daughter never experienced any kind of unhappiness at school. She felt happy and when questioned about the move, she always answered that she loved her new life in Canada and she didn’t want to come back to Peru.
Child 3 (4 years-old going to Junior Kindergarten)
My little one didn’t speak English at all but I didn’t think it would be a problem because kids that age just play and have fun and make friends easily through play.
The first weeks she didn’t complain about anything and she mentioned the names of some girls, so I thought she was having a good time. She was even invited to a birthday party.
But after a few more weeks she started to say that she didn’t want to go to school. One day, the school took the kids to the nearby ice-skating rink. Since parents were invited to join them, my husband and I were there, and I could hear some girls talking about my daughter.
They said that she didn’t know how to skate and she needed skate supports. I’m sure that by that time my daughter could understand English but wasn’t yet able to express herself. So, she was hearing the negative comments and feeling left out.
I remember that she was about to cry when I said goodbye to her while the kids were in line to go back into the school. All of them were chatting and giggling and my poor baby was silent with a sad expression on her face. It broke my heart.
Luckily, after five and a half months she started to speak English! What a relief. That changed everything. She made a good friend and she never said again that she didn’t want to go to school.
Of my three daughters, it was the second one who transitioned very easily through the process of settling down in Canada. It surprises me how quick she adjusted to her new life.
The one who struggled the most was the eldest, but fortunately after a year she started to feel more at ease. Now, after three years in Ottawa, she feels comfortable and she doesn’t talk anymore of wanting to go back to Peru.
As for the little one, my struggle now is to make sure that she doesn’t forget to speak Spanish!
As you can see, every child is a unique case. There are no exactly similar experiences. It depends on their ages, their personalities, their inner nature, but in the end, I think, they get used to the changes more easily than an adult.
Do you have worries about your kids’ adaptation in Canada? Have they already been there? How was their experience? Feel free to share. Take care.