Transferring from local to international school: A Thailand case study

Transferring from local to international school: A Thailand case study

Natchariya "Mai" was seven years old at the time she transferred from a Thai school to an international school in Bangkok. She entered Grade 2 at the end of the Thai school year, mid-way through the international school year, as the calendars are not in sync.

Prior to Mai's transfer, the dominant language at home was Thai. She has a Thai mother and a Canadian father, both of whom are modestly bilingual. Once her parents decided to put Mai in international school, her parents switched to speaking mainly English at home. They also switched the TV on to more English programs. The Amazing World of Gumball and other cartoons became serendipitous English language assistants.

A story of relevance

Education begins at home.  Mai's parents started reading stories to her at an early age. She enjoyed books, but her parents felt that none of stories were directly relatable to Mai's situation in Thailand or the challenges she was about to face in school. So, her father decided to write a short story that paralleled Mai's transfer to her new school.

The story is about a young girl, Snow Flake who transfers to a new school and wants to fit in. Mai's father thought Mai would have trouble adjusting to an English language curriculum and feel inferior to her new classmates. Mai and her father wrote the story together.

The Snow Flake story sparked Mai's interest in reading. Their Snow Flake story was eventually published as a book last year.

International school differences from Thai school

There were six obvious differences between Mai's former school and her new school.

- First, the nationality of the students – Japanese, Korean, British, European, American, Indian, Ethiopian, Middle Eastern and Thai. Mai was now exposed to a multi-cultural environment. Some classmates spoke English with thick accents of their mother tongues.

- Second, class size. Mai's new classroom held 22 students, arranged into desk clusters of two to four students. In Thai school, the class sizes were larger.

- Third, the classroom at her new school was comfortably air-conditioned. Mai relished this as a serious upgrade when she recalls her former classroom with fans and open windows from which no air seemed to enter.

- Fourth, a spacious library with a carpeted floor and walls lined with a thousand or more books. Teachers and students read passages from their favourite books twice per week in Library Class.

- Fifth, a large indoor gymnasium, replete with sports equipment.  Outdoor facilities catered for multiple sports. The grass was manicured with bright white chalk lines. There was a constant flow of activity, coaches blew whistles and students huffed with sweaty faces in permanent-press sports uniforms.

- Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, there were options to cater to students' special needs. Students who need special attention get it. In Mai's case, she had to take remedial classes to get her English language up to speed. English proficiency is a foundational requirement. For a few hours per day, Mai was removed from the regular curriculum to attend the remedial class. Within three months, she met the language proficiency requirement and was placed back in her regular home room full time.

Foreign elements

Teachers at international school are recruited from abroad and teach a curriculum that is designed to follow the curriculum of a particular foreign country, depending on the school. Geography, History, Social Studies, Math, and English are core subjects. The content of certain subjects, such as history, will emphasise national heroes, such as Abraham Lincoln in the case of American schools or Winston Churchill in the case of British schools.

Thai language classes are reserved for native Thai speakers.  As a government requirement, Mai must take Thai classes three times per week because she is a Thai national. Her parents applaud this requirement. They want Mai to be bicultural and bilingual. In fact, Mai is learning Spanish as her third language. (Mandarin was her first choice for the additional language, but that class was full.)

This year, Mai is in Year 7 (British system), considered Grade 6 in the American system. She circulates to different classrooms as her teachers specialise in specific subjects. Previously, her teachers were one size fits all. Students stay with one teacher in one classroom.

Friendly fortunes

Mai has the good fortune of developing friendships with fellow students from several countries. The student body of many nationalities exposes her to a bigger world. For example, one assignment, students had to stand in front of the class and promote their home country with a PowerPoint presentation. She learned interesting facts about a dozen other countries from her fellow students. As Mai has travelled to Canada for the past five summers, she presented facts about Canada and got to talk about her chance meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

There's no better way to examine a culture than through its national dishes. Mai's school holds an International Day, where students and parents dress in traditional costumes and cook foods of their native country. Everyone gets to sample dishes from around the world. Mai has an appreciation for international cuisines and keeps a Bucket List on the fridge of countries she wants to visit.

Bullying and discipline

Mai has not experienced bullying, mockery or exclusion in any school. These subjects are not discussed much in Thai society, though they are receiving more attention now, everywhere, not just in Thailand. It was a theme they developed in their book.

In terms of discipline, Mai recalls one occasion from Grade 2 in Thai school where she was disciplined with the "slap of the teacher's ruler, a flexible one" on her hand for talking in class.  In international school, discipline tends to be effectively metered with a stern voice, such as, you better do your homework.


Mai's daily homework is graduated by grade level. Grade 2, twenty minutes, Grade 3, thirty minutes and so on. Assignments are given online via a school portal or in traditional notebook form, depending on the topic. Parents receive a copy of homework tasks by email. The school's online portal is the source for all of Mai's school activities and records, including attendance and report cards.

Beyond the core subjects and school trips

Education is never confined to the four walls of a classroom. This year, Mai's class had a five-day trip to Kanchanaburi. The trip was a mix of education and adventure. She got to test her skills at making a camp site and experience other outdoor activities. Most of all, she got to be independent. She refers to it as, a holiday from mom and dad.

Parent participation

Mai's school fosters parent engagement. Parent-teacher meetings are scheduled on a regular basis and the school's management holds meetings with parents to announce directives and receive constructive feedback. International school fees are notoriously high, so parents seek to ensure that the fees are being channelled wisely. The meetings are well attended, lively and candid.

Academic counselling

Although Mai is many years away from graduating, it is noteworthy that her school has advisors for university counselling.


It is too early to confirm the degree of independent and critical thinking skills Mai will develop. However, Mai's school environment will enable her to explore her interests and find her own level of competence. She has opportunities to practice athletics and pursue extra-curricular activities.

The book by Greg Beatty and Mai entitled "Snow Flake and the Big Race" is available from Amazon and leading Thailand bookstores with an audio version narrated by Dan Russell available at

Authors: Greg Beatty with daughter Mai at

Series Editor: Christopher F. Bruton, Executive Director, Dataconsult Ltd, Dataconsult's Thailand Regional Forum provides seminars and extensive documentation to update business on future trends in Thailand and in the Mekong Region.

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