And the Award Goes to…

When we first got word sometime last year that we’d be moving back to the U.S.A., I had two immediate concerns: Will I still get to climb Kilimanjaro, and will the kids be yanked out from school mid-year again?

From a transition standpoint, pulling all sorts of strings and making the move within four weeks – that was all the time we had – would have been the best course of action. The kids could have started the American school year in mid-August, which would have been particularly beneficial to our oldest, in that he could have moved straight to the beginning of 11th grade.

And yet on the other side of the equation, not finishing the South African school year seemed like a huge loss. Like depriving them of something. They had worked hard all year, were doing extremely well, and (so I hoped) were on track to collect a few prestigious academic awards.

Some of you will say that this is precisely the reason you chose the American School (AISJ) over a private South African one. To avoid that entire issue with the offset school year and the threat of losing a year by the time you’ve transitioned twice, not to mention possible academic differences. And there is a lot of validity in that argument. If I think of all the sleepless nights and hemming and hawing I’ve gone through to arrive at our decision, it might have been nice to avoid it altogether from the onset.

But now that we are here and some time has passed, I am convinced that we made the right choice*.

Because, you see, they did all get their awards. Sunshine and Impatience both received “top academic performance” awards, meaning they were the best students in their classes in 2012. I can’t remember a time when when any siblings have achieved that before in the same year. Jabulani shared the “top maths student” award for grade 8 with two other kids, and all four achieved distinctions on their reports, meaning their average was above 80%, which might not mean much on an American scale but does in South Africa.

South African school awards


It seems silly to let a rather big life decision hinge on one minute of glory on a prep school stage. Because that’s all it was. But it made them feel extremely good about themselves that moment, and that is worth so much. Who knows – maybe that minute will go a long way in their lives to come.

Just one of our many South African good-bye parties

Oh, and I admit there were a few other perks attached to extending our time in South Africa another five months. We got in another visit to Franschhoek, this time with friends. We got to tour Namibia, and got to sleep under the stars on the banks of the Orange River. I did get to climb Kilimanjaro, together with Zax. Everyone got proper goodbye-parties. Including Noisette and I (ours was a rather tear – and alcohol – soaked affair). I got to hand over the Alexandra Baseball project in a proper fashion, and gained a great friend in the process. I got to develop a passion for cycling by competing in the 94.7 Cycle Challenge. We got to see the Drakensberg for the first time. And did a farewell safari in Madikwe. And hosted a couple more visitors, one set of them when the house was already emptied of all our stuff.

Come to think of it, if you are now suspecting my whole concern about the kids’ transition was nothing but a front to have some fun, you may be forgiven.

Finally, before the year was over, there was one other award. This time for me, or rather Joburg Expat, which received the honor of being voted Top Expat Blog in South Africa by the site ExpatsBlog. Thanks to all of you who left comments and helped promote it! You may have noticed I added a self-congratulatory badge to this site. To add to this rather self-congratulatory post. (I really do cringe a little when doing this, believe me).

And, while I was at it, I made the long-overdue change to the header and am now

Yours Truly,
the ex-Joburg-Expat

* Full disclosure: We are letting our kids repeat the second half of the school year, meaning they will eventually graduate one whole year later than they would have without moving to South Africa. This is not based on academics, but rather practical considerations about our older kids getting ready for college. We have found they are not at all behind academically. They might have missed certain pieces of knowledge, like in history, but they are having a very easy time catching up, and in some way are well ahead of their peers, because South African schools do an excellent job fostering independent learning at an early age. See the Schools category for all my observations on South African education.

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