EXPAT KID: What education is best for YOUR ex-pat kid in Turkey?

Learning about other foreigners and expats living in Turkey and their TCKs’ educational opportunities.

*Note: If you are a Turkish citizen reading this post, foreign families in Turkey are under the same requirements as Turkish citizens. It is not compulsory for foreigners to send their students to public schools, and they do have the options to homeschool.

The school bell rings… or maybe the sound of mom fixing sandwiches in the kitchen signals a lunch break. Living abroad can mean rethinking what you assumed about education coming from your passport country.

Some parents can feel overwhelmed when they are presented with the options available. Questions like these floats around in their heads:

“Should we send him to the public school down the street to learn language?”

“I don’t like the curriculum at the more affordable school, but I could never be a homeschool mom.”

“Our TCK wouldn’t go to a private school in our passport country, but since my company pays an extra living stipend for expats, is that the best option for her here?”

For those who may be unfamiliar with the terminology, a TCK, or Third Culture Kid, is a child who grows up for a significant part of her life in a country that is not her passport country.

The “third culture” created in the home is neither entirely the culture of the passport country, nor is it entirely the culture of the country of residence. An ‘aTCK,or adult Third Culture Kid, is an adult who grew up with the TCK experience as opposed to adult expatriates who may or may not have lived abroad as a child. There are so many unique benefits and challenges to being or raising TCKs. One of those is the educational opportunities available to a TCK, often in a second or third language. 

As someone who was a teacher in the States (and always a teacher and learner at heart) I am passionate about education. With some of my expat friends here in Turkey, that passion often comes out when I spend time reading with their kids, reinforcing lessons I know they are teaching their kids, and asking and answering good questions. So, I asked a few of them to share their educational journeys with me.

I synthesized their answers into five tips to help guide any parents of TCKs who may be struggling to decide what is best for their family.

But first, a little bit about the families: 

MOMS: All of the following quotations are from expatriate moms who live (or have lived) in Turkey. Each of these parents has begun the process of thinking through how best to educate their TCKs. Two of the women who shared with me are aTCKs themselves, and I was particularly interested in their experience with education and how they plan to educate their children.

Quotation #4 TCK Education.jpg

KIDS: The ages of the TCKs range from newborns to high school kids. Some have only known life in Turkey. Some experienced the majority of their childhood in Turkey and have returned to their passport country. Some have been in Turkey for a relatively short time and are still learning the language. Some can speak Turkish and are in an international school learning a third language. Some kids went to a private preschool, some public preschool, both to acquire language. Some moved from preschool into homeschool, or public elementary school, or private. Some parents foresee different educational journeys for each of their children. Some are grateful that their kids are all in the same boat. Everyone’s journey is different, and everyone that I interviewed is still on the journey.  

Quotation #2 TCK Education.jpg

From watching families make these decisions, and from my interviews with these moms, here are the top five tips I’ve learned in making educational decisions for your family. 

1. Research all the options

There may be resources you don’t know are available. It could be a private school that you’d never heard of, special educational funds available for expats via your company, another expat from your passport country who is willing to tutor your child in her first language. Your options may be limited, but ask around and you may find that they are less limited than you thought. You may even find that the options are more abundant and enriching than what you would have chosen in your passport country. 

2. Consider your goals for your family and your children.

Ask the questions that are relative to your family and lifestyle:

  • Is it important for your children to learn the local language?
  • Or are you on a military base, expecting to move to a new country in the next few years?
  • In what areas do your individual children need consistency?
  • Where do you see the need for them to grow?

Remember that you are this child’s parent for a reason: you have insights into their strengths, weaknesses, interests, and you can help them to grow in areas they would never expect of themselves. 

3. Ask for advice, pray, and trust God.

There may be differences in how schooling works in your country of residence versus your passport country that you would never know if you didn’t ask. If you know a teacher, ask questions about the education philosophies of different school options, the class sizes, the length of the school day. Tour different types of schools, research what homeschooling options are available to you.

Personally, I suggest that parents pray about the decision and trust that God has made you the parents of these little ones for a reason. I believe as a parent, you have a particular insight into your children’s minds and hearts. He can give you the wisdom to make a good decision. 

4. Every child is different.

Take into consideration the personalities, strengths and challenges for each of your children individually. It may be that you end up choosing the same schooling option for all of your kids, but it may be harmful to start with that assumption.

Don’t be afraid to include your child in some of these conversations, especially if he is old enough to understand the options. Seek out the answers to these questions together:

  • What kind of learning environment is she comfortable in?
  • What kind of school would help him grow?

5. Don’t be afraid to try something different than others and allow yourself the option to change course, if needed.

Maybe you have a lot of expatriate friends, and they are all content to educate their children in the same way. Maybe it will be helpful for your TCK to be a part of that community. Maybe it would be best for your child to do schooling differently.

Feel the freedom to make that decision, knowing that doesn’t have to be permanent.  Changing schooling options every year or in the middle of a year to find a best fit may bring unnecessary transition stress to your TCK, but you needn’t feel locked into an option just because you started with it. 

Quotation #1 TCK Education.jpg

An interview with an ‘aTCK’ (adult Third Culture Kid) viewpoint for her own TCKs:

I also talked with a new friend who has the great vantage point of being not only an aTCK (adult Third Culture Kid) herself, but also an educator to TCKs and mother to a TCK! Since she has this unique perspective, I wanted to leave you with her thoughts on education abroad.  Here is our interview: 

Nia: What is your passport country? What country (or countries) did you grow up in?  Where do you live now?

Grace: My passport country is S. Korea. I grew up in Turkey, went to boarding school in Germany for 6 years, Korea for university, and am back in Turkey.

Nia: What was your educational experience growing up (public, private, boarding, international, home school, etc.)? Did it change as you got older? Why or why not?

Grace: I attended a local preschool, an American military school for Kindergarten-3rd grade, school in Korea for 4th grade, a small [international] school in Izmir for 5th and 6th, and a boarding school (Black Forest Academy) for 7th through 12th grade.

Nia: What did you appreciate from your educational experience? What would you do differently for your own children? What effect do you think your educational circumstances have had on you?

Grace: I appreciate my early exposure to Turkish and English. My boarding school experience was a personal time of healing where I felt I belonged and I wasn’t the “odd one out.” I would want my child to attend the school I attended, but I wouldn’t want him to be at a boarding school. I think times have changed and media has brought people closer together so he does not need to go to a boarding school to feel the sense of belonging that I did. 

Nia: As an educator of Third Culture Kids, what do you see as the pros and cons of the educational opportunities available when people live abroad?

Grace: Pros: [One] can get a faith-based education, can find a like-minded community, be in a safe environment, be exposed to the universal church and a truly multicultural experience.

Con: [T]here is a sense of a “bubble” and being removed from the local community and language.

Nia: What do you enjoy about teaching Third Culture Kids? What are the challenges?

Grace: I love how vibrant TCKs are and I feel honored to be able to relate with some of their experiences. A challenge is working in and with such a tight-knit community and the ramifications for the kids and adults.

Nia: How do you plan to think through your child’s educational experiences?

Grace: I want my child to be safe and happy. Those are my priorities and I hope to work through whatever situation I am faced with when my child becomes of school age and choose what is best.

Nia: What advice do you have for any families struggling to decide how to educate their children in a different country?

Grace: As expatriates, we sometimes feel driven into a corner when faced with options for education. It can be difficult to deal with guilt when thinking about our children’s education. Instead of thinking that our children’s education was the ONLY option available, trusting God and trusting that it was the BEST option.

Quotation #3 TCK Education-2.jpg

Now your turn!

  • Did you find any of these tips helpful or encouraging?
  • What tips would you add?
  • If you are an expat with school-age kids, what is your story and how did you decide to go that route? Please share!


Nia McRay from @Tastes_Like_Turkey

I am a lover of words and stories, student of culture, amateur photographer, adult cross-cultural kid, English tutor to TCKs (Third Culture Kids), and aspiring foodie. We will probably be instant friends if you give me good coffee, invite me to cook with you, or start a conversation with me about personalities, culture, and how the two intersect. I’m a life-long nerd, believer, and creative-in-the-works. I am all about the journey, so traveling and cross-cultural living is always something that has captured my heart and inspired my imagination. 

In 2016, after teaching in an inner-city school and needing a change of pace, I spent a year abroad in Izmir, Turkey with a friend. I absolutely fell in love with the city and the people. The conveniences of a big city with a friendly, slow-pace-of-life atmosphere is all found between the mountains and the sea. What’s not to love? So, after my year of adventure, I knew I wanted to come back to Izmir to live. 

Positioned on the perch of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, Turkey is both a mix of cultures, and a unique culture all its own. The more I learn, the more I want to learn, and this desire to learn is what drives me to write. As a pretty quiet person, I write to learn, to discover, and to process. As someone who grew up in a cross-cultural context, Turkey’s diversity and mix of cultures is something I personally relate to. Plus, if you’ve ever tasted Turkish food, you know that it is definitely something to write home about. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Funks’ blog and to grow and learn in the process.