It’s an early September morning, and while near my old school I hear the familiar sound of a school bell. This bell makes me think about the path I have taken with my schooling
Not only long and winding, my education in Ukraine and abroad has also been full of potholes and unexpected turns – in other words, not the most pleasant ride, but certainly an interesting one. With kids everywhere heading back to school this month, What’s On takes a look at the positives and negatives of an international education.
I come from a family obsessed with education – my father is currently in the middle of his fifth degree and my mother has just finished her third – so it should come as no surprise that my tuition was taken very seriously. I didn’t go to a kindergarten like the rest of the kids my age. Instead, I spent three hours a day in a day-care centre where they spoke a language I barely understood at the time (and the one I am writing in now): English.
I was as young as four when I first set foot in an English-speaking community and god, it was scary. For the first six months I wouldn’t let my grandma leave the room I was in. Perhaps some readers can relate. However, sooner or later, I started enjoying my American kindergarten and I’m certain my English would be miles worse had I not attended. Of course, there are a number of Ukrainians who speak better English than I do – I’m no professor. But the thing I’m most definitely sure about is that the ‘native’ accent comes only when languages are learned in childhood. According to scientific studies, the voice box is much more flexible in terms of learning new sounds in childhood. This backfired on me later when I started at Ukrainian school.
Back and Forth
To make sure I got a decent pre-school education, my parents sent me to a wonderful tutor. To this day, I clearly remember her telling me I spoke with an American accent when talking to her in Ukrainian.
First grade, however, was spent in a Ukrainian school, and looking back, I am positive this was the best place for me at that time. In fact, it was the only place – I had no choice. It was good in terms of providing an elementary education: I learned about my country, its language and literature, and achieved a very good level in maths. But trouble came creeping when I least expected it – soon 12-year-old Illya was moving to Hungary to go to a British school. Remember how I said that the voice box thing backfired? Well, I’d lost my American accent and gained one that was distinctly Slavic, and with that, a lot of vocab had gone flying out of the window as well.
The Value (and Cost) of Studying Abroad
To my surprise, I quite enjoyed British school, and found some aspects of it rather useful: maths and English classes grouped by ability in years 7-9; the option of choosing your own subjects in years 10-11; and taking the International Baccalaureate (IB) in years 12-13. The IB programme really does open a lot of doors when applying to university. Most UK and European universities accept it as it’s a unified system that does not require students to sit for university entrance exams (except for Oxbridge).
If I hadn’t moved to Hungary, I would have had the option of going to college after ninth grade. Alternatively, I could have stayed for tenth and eleventh grades, then gone to a Ukrainian or eastern European university. Ukrainian state exams are currently accepted in Ukraine and some foreign universities (usually in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Bulgaria), although a language proficiency test is required to get into western European universities.
Another thing I learned at international school was to embrace diversity. My English also improved – but it came at the cost of my ending up with not-so-great Ukrainian, and not learning as much about my culture as I would have liked.
Speaking of cost, education can be very expensive, as much as a good car in some cases, is it worth it? Yes.