Before You Arrive

Can the sponsor send some photos of your new life? Ask your children what they would like to see. Some suggestions would be photos of where you might live, the school the kids will go to, the market where you'll shop, the corner where the school bus stops and so on.

Ask your sponsor to focus on photos that show what life will be like, and save the tourist stuff for later (tourist shots are fine; you'll want to visit all the sites while you're there. The daily life pictures, however, may be more helpful in getting the kids to focus on actually living in the host country). Being familiar with things around the new home should make the transition easier.

Many international schools require more extensive entrance formalities than are common in the U.S. Some run on different schedules than the U.S.-based September to June school year. Ask you sponsor to gather some information for you on school options.

Make up a list of things your kids enjoy"€special foods, favorite activities, TV shows"€and ask the sponsor to comment on the availability of such things in the host country. You might not be able to find a favorite snack, and thus may want to pack a few so that arriving at the new place is less of a shock. Being able to tell your children that a favorite thing is available at your new home can relieve some anxiety, while having time to prepare your child in advance that something is not going to be handy might make the transition less abrupt.

Ask about sizes. In some places, especially in Asia, you may not be able to find larger sized shoes, or pants for tall people. In some places it is hard to find 100% cotton things, or underwear that you prefer. Knowing this in advance, you can pack extras, or line up mail order sources.

For older kids, exchanging letters, e-mails or if practical, phone calls can be helpful and reassuring. If they can write or talk to a peer, they may also be on the road toward having a new friend already waiting for them to arrive. Even if the relationship does not lead to a life-long buddy, knowing someone even a little makes getting off that plane a bit easier.

Make list of questions you have, trying to prioritize them a bit, as even dedicated sponsors get tired. One question to ask is “what do I not know that I need to know”, or, a variant, “what is so new or unexpected that I would not be expected to even know to ask”. You could also phrase it as “what was the most useful thing you learned in heading to the host country” or “what things have others said they wished they had known in advance.” The list is helpful in that you can put most of your questions to the sponsor up front, and not feel like you are harassing her daily with new worries.

Some good questions might be: can I buy/borrow children's books in English? Will my electrical things work (we also have more to say about electrical things)?

If I buy a host country compatible VCR/TV, can I play the videos I bought or recorded at home on it? To register my kids for school, or to obtain a drivers license, or to sign up for health care, are there specific documents I'll need that would be easier to acquire while still in the U.S.?

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