RNG International has more than 20 years experience working with schools, parents and students helping find the right match for expat children’s individual educational needs.
Rebecca, can you tell us a bit about your background prior to becoming an educational consultant, Certified Educational Planner and founder of RNG International?
I have been in international education for 20 years now, and have taught in both American-international schools and American public schools. When I left the classroom in 2002, I went to work for the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC, as the education and youth officer for the American diplomatic service. There I helped families who were transitioning internationally to figure out the educational puzzle for their children. With over 11,000 children who are “going along for the ride”, I saw everything, and I mean everything!The issues I was most involved in were dealing with transitions and resiliency for TCKs as well as selecting international schools, boarding schools, therapeutic schools and programs, transitioning back to American public schools, and preparing for college/university admissions.
What made you decide to set up RNG International?
Being married to a career diplomat, I knew that someday we would also be moving overseas again, and that I would have to leave the work I loved so much. I also wanted to reach out to those people who did not have anyone to turn to as they sorted out these same issues. I knew there was a need to fill. When I first started doing this, I thought that my clients would be mostly expat Americans. But as the practice has grown, I’ve worked with more and more international students – no surprise there, but all parents worry about their children and want to see them thrive. These families want and need guidance, too, so I am thrilled that I am able to serve them, too.
What services does RNG International offer?
As a Certified Educational Planner, I really focus on comprehensive educational planning – not just solving the immediate need. When I work with students and families, I want to know what the end goal of their educational path is. By identifying that, then we can work towards that goal. I work with all kinds of students, from high achieving to those who struggle. I love each and every case because I believe in the inherit worth of each and every young person. What makes my practice unique is that I work primarily with Third Culture Kids and international students because I believe that their needs, wants and desires are unique.
The services I offer include advising for boarding schools, boarding schools for students with learning disabilities, placement and support in therapeutic schools and programs for teens who struggle with behavioral and emotional issues, career exploration and planning, and college/university planning and advising. I also do a lot of writing, and I present to schools and civic groups about Third Culture Kids. Most of the work I do is highly individualized to meet the needs of individual students.
What are the main challenges faced by expats when trying to locate the best school or college for their child? What advice can you offer?
Oh, there are plenty of challenges! Starting with international schools, it’s important to be sure that the school can deliver what they promise. Can they offer enough challenge for the high-achieving student who wants and needs intellectual stimulation? Can the school meet the needs of students with learning disabilities or learning differences? Will the children/adolescents transition well? Is the school that’s chosen the right educational and social setting for the student? If students need to relocate during their high school years, will they have educational consistency? Then there’s the challenge of figuring out college/university – how can students find the right school for their interests and abilities, and that is the right match for their personalities as well? Are they prepared for the application process, and do they have realistic expectations? I find that many families are making critical decisions (that also have huge financial implications) according to “urban legend”, not the facts, and are sometimes less aware of the most recent trends in education and college admissions.
The best advice I can offer – well, this sounds self-serving, but talk to a professional who has seen thousands of scenarios that are specific to the educational and transitional issues of TCKs. So often I hear from parents after they have made some pretty big decisions, and I hear over and over again how they wish they had known about the services of an international educational consultant years earlier. A pro can help a family to think of things that they had not thought of and help bring clarity and perspective to the challenges the student and family are facing. Sometimes I meet with a family for just a brief consultation to help them think things through, and even that is very helpful to them.
Are there specific countries which, although popular with expats, are particularly challenging for their children's educational needs?
I think that the schooling options in one country might be great for one student – and very difficult, if not impossible, for another. It really is about the individual needs of the child/adolescent. There are multiple factors that must be taken into consideration – can the school meet the learning needs of the individual student? What is the make-up of the student population? Will the student find friends and be able to integrate socially? Is there an appropriate peer group? Are there activities available that will help the student to develop an interest outside the classroom? Is the local environment safe and do they have places to play or enjoy activities outside the home? Some places are fabulous – and others extremely challenging. There are even times when it is clearly NOT in the student’s best interest to be abroad – these include situations when the student has a learning disability that cannot be addressed, or a mental health issue where there are no resources to support the student at adequate levels, or the student has a special talent that cannot be developed in that location.
I’d like to say a word about learning disabilities and mental health issues. Very often, though certainly not always, the two go hand in hand during adolescence when the learning needs are not properly addressed. In addition, moving adolescents can also be very difficult. Some teens adjust beautifully, and others really struggle. I see a lot of students with very significant needs, from depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, eating disorders, substance use, oppositional behavior, self-harm – and some that even contemplate suicide or act on suicidal thoughts. These risk factors might have been present before the family even went overseas – but the stress of a move and loss of support structures can exacerbate these issues. These risk factors are even there in the most high achieving students. Parents need to pay attention.
What is a typical day in your working life like?
No two days are ever alike, except that I always put in very long hours. All days include communicating with people around the world, so much so that I almost take for granted how amazing it all is. I’m talking to students, parents, psychologists, school admissions officials, colleagues, and guidance counselors on every continent. If I’m traveling, which I do almost 50% of the time in order to tour boarding schools, therapeutic schools and programs, and colleges, then I’m working very long days from the road. I live with my Blackberry in my hand! Some days I hunker down and get some writing done – I always have more that I want to say than I have time to say it! But the reason I love what I do is because of the variety of kids, cases, situations, countries, and challenges.
What are your plans for the future?
I’d love to reach even more people with my message by writing more. I do what I do because I know it makes such a huge difference in the life of a student, and so I almost have the zeal of a missionary! Talking to expat families about these issues is different from talking to a domestic family that never has to face such major transitions in their lives, or live and adapt to as much multiculturalism. I’ve lived in 11 countries myself, and speak 5 languages, so for me to get to do this kind of educational consulting for a global audience is a dream come true.
If anyone would like to follow what I do now, I’m on Twitter @rebeccagrappo, or Facebook under “RNG International Educational Consultants“. Even my blog goes into those two feeds. I also have a quarterly newsletter, “Educating Global Nomads”, and a monthly newsletter about college/university called “The College Advisor”. Every page of my website www.rebeccagrappo.com has a way to sign up for any of those offerings. And if anyone in this audience does follow me, I love it when I get feedback!
What do you do to relax?
Relax?? Unfortunately, I probably don’t relax enough. I relax with a book or a movie when flying because there are no cell phones or internet on most flights. My favorite thing in the world, though, is to either cook with my 3 grown children or go on a family hike. My kids are also TCKs, and the most fun and interesting people I know. The only problem is that being an expat family, we don’t get together often enough to suit me.
Rebecca can be contacted via the RNG International website at www.rebeccagrappo.com