Educators Consider Host National School for their Kids

Picture yourself in 4th grade with a sibling in 3rd. You knew your parents were “recruiting” to teach in a foreign country, but never quite understood the impact this move could have on you ….. until now. You’re moving to Tokyo.

Always trying to save money, your mom and dad are talking about enrolling you and your younger sister in a local Japanese school. The International School they’ll be teaching at offers free tuition for kids of foreign educators, but since tuition is considered taxable income they want to avoid what could be a “hefty tax.” All you hear is:  You and your sister won’t be at the same school with them!

You wonder if other American kids will be at this local school. You learn that the fact is, you’ll be the only American kids and probably the only native English speakers since Japanese is, of course, the language of instruction. And, from the photos you’ve seen, the kids all wear uniforms. Argh! You’re feeling, all at the same time, excited, apprehensive and a bit angry at mom and dad! You’ll be leaving a lot behind…

ISR Asks:  What’s your reaction to this real-life scenario that appeared on the ISR Open Forum? Do young, expat kids become bilingual and assimilate into host-country school culture, or do they suffer academically and experience a sense of social isolation? What are the pros, and what are the cons?

Comments? Please scroll down to participate in the ISR Discussion

19 thoughts on “Educators Consider Host National School for their Kids

  1. The circumstances you describe apply to Americans in Japan, this may not (is not) the case for other nationalities in Japan or in other countries. We have worked in international schools in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand and received tax free education for our children.


  2. These parents have traded one set of financial problems for problems that are much worse and can leave scars on their children. So, parents get the right to work in an international environment all day but kids get thrown to the wolves in local Japanese school? Japanese kids memorise vast quantities of information and study many, many hours daily. Individuality, questioning, and thinking skills are NOT welcome in a Japanese classroom. I lived and worked in Japan and would like to slap some sense into these parents who are living a fantasy that their kids can make it in the Japanese school and will somehow have a rich, cultural experience there. The only time I would consider a Japanese school is for preschool or kindergarten and those would be private schools. Beyond that, no way! I hope this question is only a joke, meant to stir up people into responding.


  3. We put our kids in local schooling in China but they started in kindergarten. Even at 2 years old, there’s a huge cultural difference. Sure they’re bilingual, but by 3rd grade, it was enough. Local school classrooms are huge and the instruction is more about control and less about learning. Depending on your child they may get along with the teacher and classmates easily or bristle at the bullying and discipline they experience or witness. Choose wisely. Maybe there’s local Waldorf school but that would cost you too. We were charged a school fee as foreigners. Also, we had daily tuition because we couldn’t help with homework. It wasn’t cheap, in total.


  4. After the decision to take a teaching sabbatical we moved our daughter from an international school to a local Japanese school in my wife’s home town.

    She is fluent in the language but she hated every day of going to school. She didn’t fit, she was too different, had no friends, the teaching style was boring, she was bullied and forced to spend her holidays and weekends in school club activities. She started refusing to go to school.

    Over the objections of my wife I pulled her out just after she entered junior high, took her back to my home country and enrolled her in a public high school (where she has flourished). Based on her experience I would never ever recommend sending an outsider kid to a local Japanese school. Suck up the tax. How much is your kid’s peace of mind worth?


  5. International Schools should allow the students of teachers to attend an international school for free in the city they reside in, and schools should fit the tax bill. Expecting international educators to be any different to international anything else is not reasonable. International parents want the best educators possible – very hard in today’s world. This means great packages for educators. No parent would say “give them less”. That is a fiction administrators and Board propagate.


  6. Oh, geez…I’m the one who apparently inspired this article. I was asking because all six of my friends in Japan who I asked – both Japanese AND foreign – advised me to put my kids in a local Japanese school if we moved to Japan. Plus I really don’t know how much the taxes on the tuition at an international school would be. I have lived in Japan before (pre-kids) and am aware that bullying could be an issue. I don’t think I’d actually put my kids in a Japanese school, partly because I’d want them to be with me so we have the same schedules. But I do want them to improve their Japanese, and I just wanted some other opinions.


  7. Living in Japan without children, but with many friends who do have children, this scenario is absolutely realistic.

    The issue is being taxed in Japan, by the Japanese government. Depending on the school and the number of children, the ‘tuition income’ could be between the equivalent of 20,000 and 40,000 USD per year. That DOES cause much higher taxes. The family is right to consider it in their budget; I know several teaching families who came to Japan and my school, and got a nasty surprise that their take home earnings weren’t what they thought they’d be.

    The taxable income is not taxed in the US; it is not an issue of being over the foreign income exemption.

    I know a few families who have done this, and it can be wonderful… If one parent is Japanese, and the children already speak Japanese. Even then, it’s not easy. Tokyo has many foreigners, but it is not an easy integration. (There is a reason many Japanese families that have lived abroad for a few years, and many mixed-national families chose international schools. English language instruction, yes, but also less bullying and ostracism.)

    Another consideration: If both parents are work at an international school, they will have very different holidays than their children.

    I understand the issue of the expense, but with children over grade 2, especially in Japan, I would never do it.


  8. It’s going to be hellish if they don’t speak Japanese well enough, because they’re going to be bullied and they won’t be able to handle the instruction at that grade level in another language. You won’t be able to protect them, at all. Maybe that’s the goal, to force them to learn to rely more upon themselves? Putting them in lower grades, like 2-3 years behind, that usually doesn’t work well, either.

    I come at this from a different perspective. I have been teaching for five years at a “elite international school” and we just started an elementary department in the last year or so. A year from now, as a “mixed blood” kid, my five year old son could receive free tuition or go and attend our local public elementary (fees for both would essentially end up the same, around $2000 for one year).

    He is learning Chinese as his first language, and I highly value his becoming an empathetic, responsible/considerate citizen and not constantly being around “spoiled rich kids” and absorbing those attendant values. Of course, there’s the indoctrination/propaganda side of things here in China, that’s still going to be there, international/quasi-private or public school, it’s just the nature of the beast. In my way of thinking, he can always go to the States around Grade 4-5-6 and pick up English fluency relatively quickly, so intl vs. public school is less important than the psychological and character effects. Of course, if he’s unhappy with the public school, he could try our new primary and see if he likes that more. Time will tell.


  9. Start your decision making process with the kind of education that you want your children to have and your goals for them this year.

    If you want to enroll your children in a local Japanese school, do it because you have researched your options thoroughly and think the school that you have chosen is the best educational opportunity for your children.

    Never enroll in any school anywhere school just to save a buck.

    Do the children already speak Japanese? Does the school happen to have a JSL (Japanese as a Second Language) program? If not, consider making this summer a Japanese language-intensive study. Japanese language skills may be necessary for a successful year in that context. Japanese language testing may also be part of grade placement.

    Do you know enough Japanese to help them with their homework? The cost of a tutor could offset any tax savings.


  10. I wonder if this is “fiction or fact”? It would seem near impossible to conceive of a parent turning down free tuition because of tax???!! The school, if it exists, must be really sub-par if wages would not allow parents to handle taxation. I lived in Japan for a long time. Not sure how this could be a real thing that is happening.


  11. Apparently they are entirely unaware of the wonderful culture of bullying within Japanese schools – one of the very dark features of the culture you only learn of after living there for a while. The nail that sticks out gets hammered down. Unless they are staying there very long-term, this would be a bad idea.


  12. What Educator says about the taxation part is true. All of the combined perks will not be enough for most educators to be taxed upon and if it were the case that the couple made enough money to be taxed, then there are deductions to offset all the taxes. The picture presented in the scenario either is incorrect or incomplete.

    Now, about receiving local education, the parents should look for the best local school, not just any school, and enrol their children. It’s a perfect opportunity to educate their children the way most people could only dream of.


  13. Seriously? The Japanese can teach us ALL a lot about a kinder, more mindful and civilised approach to life. Jump right in!


    1. Well, they have one of the highest teen suicide rates in the developed world, mostly based on school stress, so it can’t be all THAT great.


    2. The almost zero teen death rate from drugs, alcohol, and gunshots balances out overall teen deaths compared with other countries.


    3. I absolutely disagree. I’ve been an international educator for almost 10 years. Japan has been the least rewarding location of all. Open hostility towards foreigners is fairly common. Friends that have sent kids to local schools have withdrawn them due to extreme bullying and racism. I’d advise anyone thinking of coming here to do their homework and speak to as many current residents as possible. It is not a good place to be.


    4. They can speak with me. I’ve lived in Tokyo for over 30 years as a teacher and your comments don’t reflect my experience living in Japan.


  14. What are these parents thinking? This is ridiculous. There is a very high limit for foreign income (at least for US citizens), and the tuition is unlikely to put the parents over this limit of the foreign income exemption. It baffles me that these parents would sacrifice their children’s education when it won’t cost them anything anyway.


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