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5 Tips to Navigate Schools as an Expat Student

Because of my father’s work, I found myself moving countries and schools every 2-3 years and have attended over eight international schools around the world.

Namanh Kapur
May 1,  2019

Being an expat and moving your entire life is tough. Just when you acclimate to a new environment, it’s time to pack your bags and fly to a new country or continent. You leave everything behind – your home, your friends, and your community. While you search for consistency and stability, you finally understand change is the only constant in life. And so you learn to associate the idea of “home” not with walls and windows, but with people. You learn to find a home in even the most remote of places. You learn to seek out happiness rather than wait for it to find you.

Since I was three months old, I’ve been on the move. Due to my dad’s job at an oil company, we would relocate countries (and, at times, continents) every two to three years. In fact, my time at Rice University is the longest I’ve ever been in one place. Having lived in Indonesia, Angola, Nigeria, Singapore, the United States, Brazil, and France, I’ve attended 8+ schools in a variety of education systems: British, American, and International.

My international travels have taken me to countries such as Indonesia, Angola, Nigeria, Singapore, the United States, Brazil, and France.
My international travels have taken me to countries such as Indonesia, Angola, Nigeria, Singapore, the United States, Brazil, and France.

Who I am today is an admixture of distinct cultures, languages, ideologies, and morals. My personality and character are the results of interactions with people of varied backgrounds. I have grown so much throughout my travels. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way:

The first day of school is not make-or-break

I’ve had 10 first days at a new school. They never get easier. The night before the big day, I can hardly sleep. I’m both excited and incredibly nervous. What should I wear? Where on the bus should I sit? Who will eat with me during lunch? Don’t rush yourself as you take it all in – the new faces, campus, and curriculum. Remember, after the first day, there is a second, and then a third and so on. Though first impressions matter, relationships take time. So, be yourself and you’ll find your community in no time.

Take interesting classes and stretch yourself

The American School of Paris offered both the AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate) curriculums. During my 9th and 10th grades there, I took Web Design, Mobile Application Programming, and AP Computer Science, along with my other required courses. In Houston, at St. John’s School, I took advantage of courses like Differential Equations and Linear Algebra, despite being in high school. Through these classes, I discovered a love for problem solving and design, which led to an interest in computer science, which I continue to study at Rice University.

Explore all sorts of different extracurricular activities

At the American School of Paris, I joined the Model United Nations (MUN) club. I honed my skills in public speaking and expanded my knowledge about politics and policy. I traveled to the Hague and spoke in front of 1000+ people in the UNESCO building. To this day, I attribute my love for presentations and confidence on stage to my time in MUN. Further, throughout my years at school, I’ve been part of both the swim and tennis teams. Sports have been a great way to stay fit and meet people. One of my closest friends from Singapore, Keisuke, was my lane buddy during swim practices. While traveling all over Europe for tennis, I’ve kept in touch with the players who hosted me at their home. Finally, at Rice, every year I’ve joined a new club. I’ve been part of the Kinda Sketchy sketch-comedy troupe and now am a beatboxer for Basmati Beats, Rice’s Bollywood-western fusion group.

Me and my buddies on the last day of school at the American School of Paris.
Me and my buddies on the last day of school at the American School of Paris.

Learn the language

Just do it. There’s no better way to learn a culture than to immerse yourself in the language. Stutter every once in a while, use the wrong verb tense, and forget the right vocabulary, but never stop trying. When you’re out on the streets, force yourself to speak in the local language. To learn Portuguese, I would speak to my dentist in the language and I would pick up local slangs on the beach and during impromptu futsal games. To learn French, I would talk to people while on public transportation and during pickup games of basketball. I can’t tell you enough how many times I’ve been able to break the ice by introducing myself in someone else’s language or by helping someone communicate because they didn’t speak English. By learning the local language, you show people you appreciate and respect their culture. Also, being multilingual is good for the brain.

Keep in touch with people you meet

In the age of the internet, there really is no excuse. Check-in with friends and professors from time-to-time and update them on your life. You never know when you may see them again – the world really is a small place. Whenever I visit a country, I always reach out to people I know who live there. It’s always more fun to have a local guide you through a city and if they’re a friend then even better. My 8th grade English teacher become close to my family and gifted me a longboard when I left Brazil. We kept in touch and after countless moves, he ended up in Austin, a city only 3 hours away from Houston. When he came to Houston as part of a business trip, we grabbed lunch together. He then introduced me to SchoolRubric and here I am writing an article for the website!

A boat event with many other interns during my unforgettable summer at Microsoft.
A boat event with many other interns during my unforgettable summer at Microsoft.

I’ve seen more of the world than many people do in a lifetime. While I may have missed out on growing up in the same neighborhood and going to the same schools as my friends, I’m truly blessed to have such a unique background. I know for certain I want to continue traveling for the rest of my life. Whenever I get the chance to relocate to a new country, I will pounce on the opportunity because once you’re an expat, you’re always an expat. It becomes a part of who you are.

Namanh Kapur is a rising senior studying computer science at Rice University. An Indian citizen by birth, Namanh has lived in 7 different countries – Indonesia, Angola, Nigeria, Singapore, the United States, Brazil, and France – and speaks 4 languages – English, Hindi, French, and Portuguese. In his free time, he enjoys trying new restaurants and cuisines, spending time with friends, watching inspirational true story movies, and beatboxing for his college a cappella group.


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