Children from Europe, the US, Canada, India and more can spend part of their school years in International Schools in SE Asia. Mostly the schools are very good and offer a wide range of extracurricular and after school activities. Their broader varied experience and a developed or otherwise learned bilingualism, mould them to attain citizenship of the world through their exposure.  But it’s not always easy for them.

International schools Singapore and in the ASEAS region are not a monoculture. Instead, we have a melting pot of ethnic and cultural diversity. The child has a lot of choices to make. Typical kids find it hard to adjust when changing schools and environments, what more a child with an SpLd. To cross the barriers of social acceptance it is often difficult in my experience when coupled with the academic challenges they may face due to their SpLD. If the academic challenges can be smoothened out from the start then the child with a learning difference could transition more gently into the new school.

In Nina Sichel’s collections Writing Out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids (2011). A moving account of them is given.  TCK’s often feel powerless as their families decide to relocate, and they lose their sense of belonging, recognition and connection. In spite of the high quality of their new schools, they may experience loss, which may be hard for their parents and teachers to recognise.

  • Mostly the schools are very good, and those of us who grew up monoculturally can envy them their broader experiences, their bilingualism, their citizenship of the world.


Their struggles, therefore, may not readily come to the attention of the school counsellor; they may appear to be adjusting to their new school world or be struggling to make friends and join the peers or be angry and disruptive. I have I realize met a few unwittingly before reading about TCK: one boy couldn’t express himself aloud for months and even after 2 years was still struggling to maintain focus in some classes, after arriving from London at 5½. Another extremely bright boy from Korea missed his home culture so much it was worth failing in Singapore to be allowed to return home. A girl I thought who from Canada needed much attention to her emotional wellness during lesson time in order to build a rapport with her before remediation could be carried out.

International schools are used to the problems of relocation their kids' experience and many prepare them well for a change and can recognize the problems. But schools in the home country may be clueless for returning students. They are just not aware of what the child may be struggling with and have no experience of helping.

Practical Tips take note to support TCK students with SpLD

If a TCK comes your way, maybe besides checking out for any learning challenges, you can encourage him/her just to talk, and share his story. The student may need time just to open and then perhaps to mourn the losses she hasn’t been allowed to acknowledge. Social and emotional wellbeing and academics go hand in hand. In my experience as an Educational Therapist, when a child can start to experience success through small steps some form of progression and the effort is acknowledged, we start to see self-esteem and confidence that starts infusing and expanding.

Anaberta Oehlers-Jaen

Head of DAS International


Writing Out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids (2011).

*Specific Learning Differences: Specific Learning Differences” is a developmental disorder and involves difficulties in learning. SpLD is an umbrella term defined in the DSM-5 and includes difficulties with academics, including reading, mathematics, and written expression disorders.