Freek: ISK, a blessing in disguise

For many international workers on short WUR contracts (and staying in Wageningen) the question “where to send my children to school?” becomes an important one. After all, a safe, inspiring and stable environment for your children, given they are indeed ‘taken from’ their home situations, is of paramount importance, and makes your stay in The Netherlands a worry-free and pleasant one. Especially when on shorter contracts of say one year, parents usually choose an international school for their children, where English is the main language and no investment is made in learning to speak and write Dutch. This means that the child may miss out on connections with Dutch culture, enjoying and recognising cultural situations, joining sports teams, following local media etc. Alternatively, parents may want to send their children to regular Dutch schools. This may represent unsurmountable barriers with regards learning the Dutch language and could make daily life for your child rather stressful.

In order to avoid these scenarios I found the ISK Wageningen a great solution, combining a main focus on learning Dutch with developing and using social and cultural skills, and acquiring knowledge of more general subjects such as math, geography, sports, and (basic) english. Children at ISK are being part of groups that reflect level and skills but not nationality and age. Indeed, entry-groups embarking on basic Dutch may contain 12 – 18 year olds mixed together. Quite frequently, interaction between the age groups helps in creating an atmosphere of ‘helping out’ and responsibility.

Apart from ‘WUR parents’, ISK children are also from war-strikken countries such as Syria or Yemen, which provides a special and inspiring environment in the class room. I remember not sensing any trauma or depression in the class atmosphere or in the school-yard whatsoever, on the contrary! Much is learned from each other’s cultural backgrounds and stories, and at school gatherings it was always great to see the diversity in language, food, fashion, and ‘social codes’ on offer. In any case, highly-skilled ISK staff make sure that no one is left behind and place great value on each child ‘landing’ properly in the group and feeling at home. Given reasonable class sizes this personal ISK approach works pretty well, ensuring everybody is challenged optimally and feels effectively part of a team. Great example is for instance the movie project, where pupils took care of the entire process themselves, making a plot, script-writing, producing, acting and directing their own movie.

Sports is taken quite seriously and of course this works well when Dutch is not yet a fluent common language. Cultural activities include crafts, painting and drawing; music making may be developed in the near future(?). Another memorable moment was the last day for summer where everybody got a personalised fair-well address from ISK staff, including brief presentations. A very nice gathering indeed! Most if not all ISK pupils find their way into connecting education or work easily and the amount of ISK guidance and advice preceding and preparing these choices is great. I would certainly recommend sending your child(ren) to ISK when staying in or around Wageningen for, say, 2 or 3 years. It would enable your child to connect with Dutch culture and life, and of course after returning back home after perhaps 3 or so years this will be a joyful and pleasant period for your child to look back on. A period full of social interaction, learning, playing, and no competitive or (under)performing stress. After all, your child didn’t ask for leaving your home country and deserves the best time he/she can get.

Freek Bakker, stepfather of Parita Khongpet from Thailand