From Dubai School to UK School, a Student Diary

Born and raised in the UAE, Erin Ryan spent her first seven years of education at Horizon English School Dubai, before moving to the UK to start her secondary education. As Erin heads towards the end of her first year in the UK, she talks to WhichSchoolAdvisor about adjusting to life and school in a new country.
From Dubai School to UK School, a Student Diary
By Jenny Mollon
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It is a conversation that many expat families will have at some point in their child’s education – should we stay or should we go? For some, the watershed end of primary school is the nudge they need to return home. They may plan to repatriate in time for state secondary school applications, or perhaps earlier if applying to a fee-paying independent prep school. There are many reasons why a family will choose to swap the sun-baked, tax-free lifestyle of Dubai for a more seasonal life in the UK. But what are the pros and cons of returning to the UK?

How big will the culture shock be for a child raised on sandy beaches and in flip flops? How different is an education in a British classroom compared to the international campuses of Dubai? And will your child be behind in class or light years ahead of their peers? spoke with 12-year-old Erin Ryan and her mum Lynda about their experience of moving into the UK school system from abroad. After spending her primary years of education at Horizon English School in Dubai, Erin started Year 7 at AKS Lytham, an independent school in Lancashire, last September. Was it a smooth transition or a bumpy start to her secondary education?

Erin in her former life, off to Horizon English School Dubai

Lynda, why did you decide to send Erin to an independent school rather than a state school in the UK?

I was worried about Erin adjusting to a new country, let alone a new school system. After visiting several schools, state and private, I felt that AKS Lytham was the best fit for Erin. The principles of the school are in line with the character building that Horizon English School encouraged and practised, the facilities and sports programmes are excellent, and the structure and learning framework is akin to Dubai schools.

Lynda, do you think that Erin’s education at an international school in the UAE gave her any advantage for starting secondary school in the UK?

I would say that Erin’s education in the UAE meant that she was able to hit the ground running. The social skills that Erin developed from her education in Dubai have been instrumental in how successful her transition to the UK has been. However, she has felt out of sync with children who attended primary school in the UK in subjects such as Religious Studies; it didn't take her long to catch up, though, and she now really enjoys this subject.

Erin, you’re now in your third term at your new school in the UK and Mum says you’ve settled in well. How difficult was it to adjust to a new school, new country?

The school day is different, it’s much longer here in UK. Because of the weather, the uniform is a lot heavier than the Dubai uniform, and you have to wear tights and jumpers and a school blazer. I found that really weird when I first started school. And there’s no outdoor swimming pool at school!

But many things feel the same. You meet friends like you would in Dubai, you still wear a uniform, and the school rules are the same as in Dubai. Like Dubai, the teachers are really nice too. It wasn’t long before I felt as if I have always been going to school in England.

Lynda, have you found Erin to be more advanced than her classmates in the UK in any way?

I don’t believe Erin is ahead or more advanced in terms of learning but I would say Erin’s character education and experiential learning, which was developed through the principles practised at Horizon English School, has given her a great social and work ethic. This transpires into a positive attitude and approach to working hard and getting the best out of her school experience.

Erin is now a keen hockey player at AKS Lytham

And have you noticed any learning gaps or specific areas that Erin needed to catch up on?

As Erin came straight from primary school, she is facing new subjects that she would also have started in a Dubai secondary school. Religious Studies, though, has been a new topic for her and one that was not covered in depth at primary school in the UAE but it is in the UK. That said, the multicultural aspect of Dubai schools has meant that Erin had friends and classmates of many cultures and religions, and she celebrated many cultural events to reflect this.

History is more UK-centric but Erin is finding the subject really interesting and enjoying learning about the history of England. The longer school day took some getting used to, and we were surprised to find no provision of swimming; as this was such a big part of daily life in the UAE, this was what Erin missed most.

Although she found new sports like hockey daunting at first, they have proved to be a fantastic opportunity for her to meet new friends, be part of a team, and in turn adjust to life at her UK school very smoothly.

Erin attended Horizon English School in Dubai for her primary education... Erin, is there anything that you prefer about school in the UK – and anything that you really miss?

I love the school clubs and the teams that you get to be part of here, particularly hockey which we never played in Dubai. The teachers are really nice and there are so many exciting opportunities for me to take part in from Year 8, like travelling to different countries and other cool stuff.

I miss being able to swim at school although I have enrolled into a local swim club. Also, wearing a jumper, tights and a blazer was hard to get used to at first!

And finally, Erin, what advice would you give other students moving to the UK from overseas?

Don’t be scared. Get involved in sports and school clubs as this is how you will meet new friends. Don’t be afraid to smile and say hello to people. Don’t be scared to take part in class. And, most importantly, don’t worry – you will soon feel comfortable and enjoy your new school like I have.

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