Expat Parenting Adventures: Discovering American Schools and Parenting Styles

Moving to a new country isn’t just about adjusting to a different environment yourself, but also making sure your children transition smoothly. As an Asian expat in the US, I’ve encountered numerous challenges navigating the American school system and adapting to various parenting styles. In this article, I’ll share some personal anecdotes and colorful insights to help fellow expat parents on their journey.

Expat Parenting Adventures Discovering American Schools and Parenting Styles

A Labyrinth of Options: The American School System

The American school system can feel like a maze for expat parents. Public schools, private schools, charter schools, homeschooling – where to begin? One of our biggest challenges was decoding the intricacies of school districts and realizing that our residential address could dramatically impact our child’s education.

Pro tip: Do extensive research on school options in your area, and tap into local parents’ knowledge. Attend school open houses, and if possible, arrange visits to the schools you’re considering. One sad fact is that, generally in California, better public school districts often mean more expensive rent so you can use rent as a rough guide for the quality of school district.

California school dashboard can be a good resource to do research for those who intend to stay in California. I wrote a review about it here. Otherwise, try to search for similar school dashboards for your state.

The Parenting Spectrum: Helicopters vs. Free-Range

The American parenting landscape is as diverse as the nation itself. I was initially taken aback by the “helicopter parenting” phenomenon, where parents seemingly micro-manage their children’s lives. Conversely, “free-range parents” encourage their kids to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them.

Pro tip: Strive to strike a balance between the two parenting styles to raise confident, independent children while ensuring their safety and well-being.

One interesting anecdote is that we used to ask permission from the school/form teacher whenever our child didn’t go to school on a particular day. However, here in the US, the form teacher or the school doesn’t have the “right” to grant permission. It is the right of the parents and we just need to inform the school/teacher of our decision.

An Active Role: Parental Involvement in Schools

American schools often invite parents to actively engage in their children’s education, from classroom volunteering to parent-teacher conferences and school events. This was new to me, as parent involvement in schools in my home country is more limited.

Pro tip: If you have the bandwidth, seize this opportunity to participate in your child’s education. It’s an excellent way to understand their learning environment and build a rapport with their teachers.

The Balancing Act: Academics vs. Extracurriculars

In American schools, there’s a strong emphasis on both academics and extracurricular activities. While academic excellence is crucial, involvement in sports, arts, or clubs is also highly encouraged. This approach was refreshing, as my home country’s schools focused predominantly on academics.

Pro tip: Support your child’s interests and encourage them to explore activities that help develop their passions outside of academics. This post (we bake and join clay club) is about the differences between her schooling in a public school in California vs. her previous public school experience in Singapore from the perspective of a 10-year-old 🙂

Bridging Cultural Gaps: Nurturing Bicultural Identity

Raising children in a foreign country can sometimes create a cultural divide. To maintain a connection to your roots while embracing American culture, celebrate your home country’s festivals, cook traditional meals, and stay connected with family back home. This approach helps your children develop a strong bicultural identity.

Pro tip: Encourage open discussions about cultural differences and similarities, and teach your children to appreciate the unique fusion of their heritage.

We have found that language is a really good way to ensure that our daughter continue to learn about cultures so we continue to ask her to speak Vietnamese at home and also practice Chinese.


Expat parenting in the US can be a challenging yet rewarding adventure. By understanding the American school system, adapting to different parenting styles, and fostering a bicultural identity, you can help your children thrive in their new environment. Embrace the journey, and cherish the memories and growth that come along the way.

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