This question was asked on the firstname.lastname@example.org forum. The answer below is given by someone who is both a parent currently with a kid in boarding school as well as an experienced international school administrator who has considerable experience with school placements.
A: Of course it depends on the students and the parents.
I initially discovered that option through being responsible for high school placement (among other things) at an international school for 19 years. I must have placed 350 students into various high schools, including international schools with high schools, boarding schools (mostly in the US, but also in Europe, Australia, and the Philippines), and Japanese high schools, the vast majority over time into boarding schools.
I was able to keep track of almost all of the students until college and a few beyond that. A number came back to Japanese Universities as returnees (Gyosei, Rikkyo, Hosei, and others: A student who went to Hosei did so with a golf scholarship after being on a golf team at St. Andrew’s School in Florida). I can say I was somewhat of an expert, at least until 6 or 7 years ago, but boarding schools change and as my current school does not yet have so many graduates– 6 last year and 7 this year– and I have been so busy with other matters, I feel less confident about many schools I used to know quite well.
When it came to my own son, I visited several of my previously favorite schools (again, depending on the student, though) with my wife and son, and was disappointed by three of them whose programs and attitudes had radically changed in just four or five years, in two cases after long-term headmasters had left.
Two of my personal favorites (George School and The Putney School), though, remained so, and were also the favorites of my wife and son who picked Putney. George School could be a favorite of any mother, especially. It is the most splendid Quaker School, North of Philadelphia.
Putney is for future independent-minded people–environmentalists, explorers, artists and musicians of any kind. It even has blacksmithing as an evening activity option, and a 25 mat room (or so) full of looms, with much of the yarn coming from their own sheep. Other past or present evening activities (required two evenings a week)–African drumming, traditional music, song composition, hip hop dancing, choral groups, wood-working, photography, painting and print-making of any kind, stained glass workshop, jewelry-making, pottery-making, drama, etc.,etc. A fairly recent graduate of Putney is Mori Izumi, now a model and TV personality, who is striking in her originality.
The school has only about 220 students sitting on 200 acres. A nearby mountain has at least a few dozen ski trails where our son skiied 8 times (4 Wednesday afternoons and four Sundays) for the price of one in Japan. The classes are small, very progressive in content, and discussion based. Instead of final exams, they have two project weeks a year.
To give an example of one project, a student studied raptors (eagles, etc.), wrote a detailed report, and made an extremely detailed (down to feathers and lifting wings) life-sized metal sculpture of an eagle taking off that you would not believe. Hopefully and probably that scupture will remain at that school by its pond for 100 years.
It is a tough life there, though, without so much pastoral care (in that respect, quite different from George School). They don’t really enforce lights out times or eating breakfast, and if you don’t get up for class probably noone will come and get you up, unlike at many schools. (HPA in Hawaii is, or at least was, quite strict in many such respects).
A book on the history of Putney says that the universities didn’t pay much attention to the student’s first year there. I would hope that is still true. The students have jobs, evening activities and so much study to do that it is almost impossible until they have worked out their own way to get through it.
Our son loves the place so much, but I would say he barely survived the first term.
Obviously it’s not for everyone. No school is. The problem is to find the right one or ones.
Many schools send representatives to Japan every year or second year. There is an annual TABS fair in Tokyo where one can meet a great many boarding school representatives in one
afternoon. It is advertised on the schools.com site.
Most boarding schools offer financial aid opportunities. American ones sometimes offer financial aid only to American students, but it is sufficient that one parent be American. Most scholarships are need-based. The schools are also aware of differing costs in different countries, so one should not hesitate to apply for assistance even if the family income may not be so bad by American standards. It is easy to transfer information from the Japanese tax forms to scholarship application forms.
Connections help–I was always able to obtain assistance for families who needed it, even if they happened to be Japanese. I was careful, though, to ask ONLY on behalf of families who really needed it. I wouldn’t necessarily run to a school I mention here because it all depends on the student and the family, special interests (many schools offer Chinese, for example), financial circumstances, etc.
I would absolutely recommend visits to the schools while they are in session before making a decision on a particular school. That can be done before or after being accepted.
Among my favorites were, and still are (though, again, it depends on the student!), St. Johnsbury Academy in Vermont–very “user-friendly” and a safe bet for almost any student, The Putney School in Vermont, Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts., George School in Pennsylvania, Kents Hill School in Maine, Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, Stevenson School in California, St. Andrews School in Tennessee, Leysin American School in Switzerland, or even Brent School Baguio in the
Philippines (far less expensive). Currently I would also recommend White Mountain School in Vermont as they have a great new head of school, and it is a lovely lovely place.
The Buxton School in Massachussetts is also extremely interesting, however rustic. The whole school makes a two week study and work trip somewhere every year–once to Cuba, and another time to New Orleans, for example. I met a Japanese girl there who had attended an international school in Japan through Grade 8 and whose Japanese was (she said) very poor, who loved that school. I am sure she will find her way through life, though I may wonder what in the world she would do in Japan if she returned here. She said her parents emphasized English at home, too.
I personally think bilingualism is most important for children raised in Japan, no matter what their nationality. So many will want to return here as adults, as, after all, it is their home!
I know least about British boarding schools because I always referred parents interested in England to Kazuko Watanabe, a consultant in Tokyo who knows them well. I hope that helps.