Thousands and thousands of children and across Ireland are back to school next week, thousands and thousands of parents are getting ready to exhale. They are delighted to have the kids back, the old routine restored, They’ve done all they can with the children over the summer holidays and now having picked up a school jumper, two shirts and ten pairs of school socks, they’re work is done, easy at that.
The kids know the school, the route, the routine, they know the class, they know the teacher, the reputation of the teacher, they know the schoolbag to have, the shoes to wear and they know that school is that school for eight years until you move to the secondary, next door for another six. The school will be closing, changing policy or moving at any time. Teachers have been there for years and have seen whole generations of families come through the school so they know, the Walsh’s, the Browne’s and the Callaghan’s, the know the families that have more emphasis on GAA than education and those that have never gone on to third level. They know the dynamics of the child’s family, they know the child.
Thus, school provides a significant security for children and the situation in Ireland is that a child is more likely to have a change of parents between the ages of 4 and 12 than a change of school. A new stepmom or dad is one thing, but moving from ‘Bally’ to ‘Carrig’……out of the question. The trauma that would surround taking a child from one school and placing him or her in a school in the next parish, would not constitute the action. Fish of the water would be a Bally girl in Carrig and a Carrig fella would never set foot in Bally never mind change allegiance and tog out for them.
It’s the power of the parish in Ireland it offers a sense of belonging to the child, who in turn grows up being afforded the opportunity to make their community their own and vice versa. They learn to play sports indigenous to their own country and heritage and they even get to speak their own language.
All very well but for the slice of society that are between jobs, country and continent, they is no such security. Yes, it’s the week before school starts but not having secured a new home yet, which school?, which country?, which continent?!? Of course I’ve done my side of things and cleaned Penney’s out of white and blue socks (I took a punt over black and navy), we also picked up school bags, pens and copies, go-go’s, clips and a Ben 10 lunchbox, but it all lies dormant until something drops. Hong Kong, Doha, Singapore, Oman, Jordan, Canada or Rome are all options, school applications are filled out for each one, with only a six digit application number for the corresponding country I look on with envy as my friends crib and moan about the standard inefficiencies and foibles of their local school.
For expat kids, school is more ‘drop by’ than institution. School is a service and not a place you can afford to feel too familiar. Primary school becomes about making the very most of each year as you try to encourage your smallie to make pals but not forge massive friendships as they may not see each other again. Secondary school is about ticking off the years and again the lack of comradery of lifelong friends leaves a void. The upside, there is more of an emphasis on academia, the downside, no friends.
Today’s Irish expat kids may not feel that warm and fuzzy feeling of home as they past is too diverse to adopt an affinity to one particular country or life and their future is unknown.
Will it Hong Kong with crazy public transport and highly competitive classmates? Will it be Singapore with more bling than bang for your buck? Will it be Doha with more Irish in Park House than in West Cork? Will it be good old sexist Saudi with full Abaya and no mom’s taxi? I can only reassure and say it will all be fine, and we’ll cope anywhere……………………as long as it’s not Carrig.