Organising a study period abroad, primary school

The author of this post is Sabina, and this is her translation of the original Italian post.

Here we are again. The last 3 weeks have been very intense. For us but especially for Nicholas, who attended his first 3 weeks at a school in Berlin! :-)

The idea was born incidentally, even though I have always tried to offer Nicholas situations for speaking German and not only with me (frequent visits at my parents’ in Bolzano, ski course in South Tyrol and, most of all, 2 months at the summer camp in the Dolomites!). Since Nicholas began kindergarten and was talking Italian all day long, I felt more and more that it was necessary to counterbalance with activities in German. Then, the last year in kindergarten they began with pre-graphism, pre-reading, and pre-logic and pre-math skills, in Italian, of course. I realised that these concepts were lacking in German. One of my professors at School for Interpreters and Translators used to say that your mother tongue is the language mental calculation is performed in, and this meant that Nicholas’ mother tongue was Italian? I had to counteract: besides books and Nicholas’ beloved audio-books in German, card games (‘Schwarzer Peter’ and ‘Quartett’), board games and role plays, which we like to do on a regular basis, I downloaded some apps for iPhone for learning to count and read  & write in German while playing, as well as audio-tales (for iPhone) by the Grimm brothers with texts and images. I could write a lot about this topic, because there are so many apps and they are really awesome. I must admit that the results with these play-and-learn tools have been incredible!

It was January, time to enroll Nicholas in school. I started looking for a German or bilingual school, but there is no such thing in our area, and to relocate to South Tyrol for a year is a little bit too much, not only because of our pets, but mainly because I am the only one to have a mobile job, which allows me to move from one place to the other. Then I read the article on BpG about attending a school in another country. I decided to contact some schools in Berlin, as we go there quite often to visit a very good friend of mine. And also because we love that city! My idea was to take advantage of the different school calendars in Germany vs. Italy to have Nicholas attend a school in Germany for a month or so. At that time I thought it would be best to do so at the end of the year, in June.

I wrote an e-mail to a public school in my friend’s neighbourhood (which she new to be good), an Italian-German and a Waldorf school, asking if there was the possibility to have my son attend their school as ‘Gastschüler’ (literally: guest schoolchild). In my e-mail I explained that the child is perfectly bilingual and that I am a German native speaker.

After two days the headmaster of the public school, Herr N., answered ‘that should be possible’, giving me a list of necessary requirements:

a liability and health insurance,
a passport,
an address in Berlin.

I replied immediately suggesting a date for a meeting in March, as we were planning to go to Berlin for a cultural event. His reply was again very prompt: ‘Let’s meet in my office at 8:10 AM.’ That’s what I call German precision!

The day of the meeting, after having explained again the linguistic background of Nicholas, who was not present, Herr N. described roughly the school and which were the possibilities of attending it: in a so-called ‘study group’ made of first and second-grade children with no more that a given number of children. My heart sank … I was hoping so much for it and now maybe they didn’t have enough space? Herr N. reassured me promising that the following Monday (3 days after the meeting) he would get back to me and tell me for sure. Meanwhile we should discuss the details.

We filled in the application form and gave a copy of the travel document for minors. Herr N. asked me if I could send him the medical certificate signed by the school doctor, but I explained that in Italy each child is monitored by its paediatrician and that Nicholas hadn’t gone to school yet. Now it was Herr N.’s heart that sank, because he was convinced that Nicholas was already attending school (in Germany, more or less like in Italy, children are enrolled in school when they turn 6 by December 31st, but they can go a year earlier if they turn 5 within the same date). He thought for a moment then told me he was very sorry to have given wrong information, but in the end he suggested Nicholas do the ‘Einschulung’, i.e. begin school on day one just like the other children. This would be the best and easiest solution, as all children feel a little bit lost the first days and the lessons are very ‘soft-style’. This sounded like a good idea to me. Nicholas could always come back again in June, but for the time being this was perfect.

We said goodbye and Herr N. said he would keep us posted.

Next monday I received an e-mail saying that Nicholas would attend the T. study group with Frau K. and that school would begin on August 22nd. I was jumping for joy. It had been so easy! Now what was left to do was to explain all of this to Nicholas… :-)

Immagine: Ich Komme in die Schule


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  1. says

    This is pretty amazing! What an adventure this will be, to have his first school days be in his heritage language. I wish you luck!

    I wish this was something we could do. I hope to have my kids each do a summer in my home country (Canada) with my parents, but it is so far and Japanese school is so much longer than Canadian that I don’t know if we could just do a few weeks. I wish they were as close as Germany and Italy!

    • says

      Hi Jen, spending time with your grandparents is very important, and not only for the language. Maybe when they are big enough they can do a year in your home country.
      I envy them for being Canadian just as much as you envy us for having Germany so close to Italy 😉

  2. says

    This is such I good idea! I must look into the possibilities for us. We’ve got access to Saturday schools for my son’s other language, but there’s nothing like going to school in a language for it to really become well rounded so the more the better.

  3. says

    Hi Solnushka,
    Saturday school sounds great. We don’t have that here. As a matter of fact we don’t have anything in my mother tongue. You are very lucky 😉

  4. says

    I agree with you whole-heartedly about the apps! I recently received an iPad as a gift and have been amazed by the apps I have found in my second language (French) that appeal to my preschool son. The storytelling, songs, and games are a great interactive resource for language learning for kids.

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