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Children from many nationalities are learning together at a school which also provides a rich cultural experience for early years practitioners. Their daily life is described by staff at the International Nursery School in Bucharest

Children from many nationalities are learning together at a school which also provides a rich cultural experience for early years practitioners.

Their daily life is described by staff at the International Nursery School in Bucharest

The city of Bucharest is often confused with its better- known neighbour Budapest. But place it within the framework of its country, Romania, and suddenly people nod knowingly, recalling the distressing pictures of abandoned children in rundown orphanages, the legacy of the Ceausescu regime.

These orphanages haven't gone away, but today Bucharest is a cosmopolitan city rapidly changing to meet European standards and be ready for entry to the EU.

The International Nursery School (INS) in Bucharest was established ten years ago to meet the needs of the expatriate community. It started with a few children in a garage and now nestles in the leafy oasis of a compound know locally as 'the French Village'.

The school is full, with 123 children aged from two to seven years old. The teacher:pupil ratio is 1:6 and staff are mainly English-speaking Romanians, with a sprinkling of expatriates.

Thirty-four nationalities are represented among the families who tend to be linked to embassies and large multinational companies. In recent years, the more affluent Romanians have also been drawn to the school as a status symbol to add to the new villa and luxury car.

The cultural differences and expectations between the indigenous population and the international clientele are marked. Romanian schools have a doctor on the premises, put the children to sleep in the afternoon (even older children) and avoid taking them outside, where they believe 'le current' (a draught) will make them ill. The Romanian curriculum is very didactic, so the multi-layered holistic curriculum provided by INS is difficult for some parents to grasp, and our emphasis on outdoor play is often met with wide-eyed horror.

The Romanian staff have adapted very well to providing an early years curriculum which few of them have previously seen in action. Consequently, we have a rolling programme of sending staff to the UK to observe and experience good practice. Another way of bringing expertise into the school is by offering secondments to UK early years practitioners. It is difficult for someone to know if they will like a country before they arrive, so this gives the opportunity to try it out with the safety net of returning to their previous job. But with glorious summers, cheap wine and fantastic food, some find that they want to stay!

Cathy's story

I am the manager of Early Learners' centre at North Nottinghamshire College but was inspired to have a change by an advert in Nursery World. INS was advertising for an early years practitioner to come over from the UK for a few months. It sounded a fantastic opportunity.

I was grateful that the college also saw what a valuable experience it would be for me to spend time in another country working with children from a range of cultures. They agreed to a four-month secondment, but I am enjoying it so much that I've decided to return once I've worked out my notice back in England.

My internet research, before heading to Romania, kept turning up horror stories of muggings, wild dogs rampaging through the city and children living in sewers. As I stepped off the plane I felt sick with nerves. But I needn't have been. Yes, there are wild dogs, but they are not threatening, and I believe Bucharest is the safest city I have been to.

The quality of life here for me is brilliant. The apartment I live in is of a high standard. I can eat out for the equivalent of 8 (drinks included), a taxi will cost around 1 and the clubs and bars are lively, friendly and open all night. The food is very different from what we're used to in the UK. The supermarket mainly stocks foods that can be bought in and kept, so they're all pickled, canned or smoked.

I love the work. The staff are friendly and have made my stay here much easier. It was difficult to interact with the younger children at first because of the language barrier, but I quickly picked up a number of simple Romanian phrases. I find I'm using them less and less as the children increasingly understand more English.

The children here and at my nursery back in England communicate with each other via e-mail, letters and pictures. We encourage children to share what they are proud of and what they enjoy. When I return home I will be able to share my experiences with the children and staff and set up a system for future liaison.

This secondment has been a life- changing experience for me. It has made me appreciate things that I'd previously taken for granted. It is strange to think that people my age over here have lived through communism and a revolution.

Angela's story

Working at INS has given me experience of working with a totally new educational system. I grew up in Romania and have a teaching degree, a four-month background as a pre-school teacher working with children suffering from AIDS, and two years' teaching experience at the first and second grade at a Romanian school.

My initial INS position was to serve as a class teacher together with another colleague for children aged five to six years under an English lead educator. It was difficult at first, because I not only had to teach in English but also had to learn how to work in a team and plan together.

Previously I was used to teaching 32 children on my own.

But gradually I gained confidence. I have now been at INS for four years and am a lead teacher for the reception class. I have four more class teachers working with me.

The INS is very different from a Bucharest state school or nursery. All of the resources are supplied by the school itself and the latest educational materials are available from England, both teaching supplies and informal books for teachers. It is also nice to find that there is ongoing training for educators. I now know how to prepare children so that once they leave they will be ready for any school system in the world.

I feel very fortunate working for INS. I earn four times more than I could if I worked for the state school system. It is enjoyable meeting children from different countries and helping them to develop all sides of their personality and get them ready for life. I am also interested in hearing about their backgrounds and listening to stories of their home countries.

My exposure to these amazing and inspiring children has made me long for an international work experience of my own. I have learned so much and am still learning many new things from teaching here. It has been an interesting experience for me so far and I am sure that it will continue to be so in the future.

Written by INS owner and manager Ela Robinson, Cathy Hart and Angela Daniela Suciuc who are on the teaching team

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