Living in a foreign country can be both rewarding and frustrating. We hope this section will help you and your family be better prepared for family life in the United States.
Car seats: According to Michigan law, children under the age of four are required to sit in an approved child safety seat while riding in a motor vehicle. For children less than a certain weight, the child or infant seat must face the rear of the vehicle; children under certain ages are required to be in a seat belt if seated in the front or back seat. When buying a car seat, check carefully to see that it meets approved safety requirements. You may want to look in the newspapaper or at resale shops to find a less expensive, used car seat. You can be fined by the police if your child is not in a car seat. When using the car seat, be sure to carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Child abuse and neglect: Michigan law forbids child abuse (beating or excessive punishment inflicted by the parents or other family members). Teachers and childcare providers are required by law to report any suspected child abuse to the county children services agency, which may conduct an investigation. Children must never be left alone in the home at any time. Police will investigate if children are found alone, or if they are reported to be alone. If the police investigate and find that a child is being neglected they may file child endangerment charges against the parents and take the children to the county children services agency. Police may also take children away if the parents are arrested for a crime, such as shoplifting.
Cleaning agents: Keep all cleaning products such as soaps and sprays out of the reach of children. Many of these products contain poisons. Never mix one cleaning agent with another.
Plastic bags: Keep all plastic bags away from children. They are a hazard for choking or suffocating.
Strangers/kidnapping: Teach your children about safety in public places. They should stay away from people they do not know. Make sure they understand they should never go with anyone they do not know for any reason.
Babysitters: People who care for children when the parents are absent are known as babysitters. When parents leave the house for even a short time, children must have a babysitter. For reliable babysitters, ask other mothers in your neighborhood.
Day care centers: Day care centers provide adult supervision for children when parents are busy. A hot lunch and two snacks are usually included in all-day programs, as well as activities. Ask for a description of the center’s program (some centers also have a half-day option). For a list of centers, look in the Yellow Pages under childcare.
- The WMU Children’s Place Learning Center: The center is open 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, except for the University closure period in December, University holidays, and two staff training days (spring and fall). The center is open between semesters and during spring break. The yearly calendar for WMU Children’s Place matches Western Michigan University’s calendar.
Preschools and nursery schools: These schools are for children ages 3, 4, and young 5’s. The main goal is to provide reading readiness, socialization and a broad range of other learning experiences. Usually no lunch is served as the program runs only in the morning or afternoon. Check the Yellow Pages for preschool programs in the area.
Kindergarten: At most public and some private schools children who have turned 5 years old by September 30 attend kindergarten. Children are required by Michigan law to attend kindergarten. Children learn reading readiness, social skills and basic elementary education. A child cannot enter first grade without completing kindergarten.
School system: Most American public and private schools offer three levels: elementary (ages 5-11); middle school (ages 11-14); and, high school (ages 14-18). Parent’s responsibilities for school enrollment and attendance, generally speaking, follow:
- Register your child for school at the designated registration times. Contact the school your child be attending for scheduling. If you need to enroll your child after the school year has begun, visit the school for instructions to register your child. Your child may need a TB test, proof of vaccinations, and a doctor’s physical to register.
- Bring up any concern about your child’s social, cultural, and education adjustment. Call the school and ask for an appointment to discuss your concerns. You do not need to wait for the regular parent/teacher conferences to meet with someone from your child’s school.
- Make sure that your child is at school on time. Promptness in arriving at school is required. If your child misses the school bus, you are responsible for transportation.
- Write excuses for your child’s absence. Acceptable reasons for absence are: sickness, sickness or death in the family, and religious holidays.
- Schedule appointments with doctors or dentists after school hours, when possible, so the child will not miss school.
- Dress your child for the weather. The weather in Kalamazoo changes rapidly. Play times are usually outside so your child will need an extra jacket or sweater to put on or take off as needed. Label all clothing and personal items with your child’s name.
- Withdraw your child from school when you leave Kalamazoo. Send a letter to the child’s teacher or principal giving the exact date of withdrawal. Report cards, certificates of attendance, etc., will be given to you by the school upon request.
- Volunteer as a parent aide in your child’s class. If you would enjoy helping with school activities or want to share information about your culture, let your child’s principal or teacher know at the beginning of the year.
Types of Schools
Public schools: All public schools are free to attend and textbooks and bus service are provided. Boys and girls attend classes together, Monday through Friday, seven hours a day. Hot lunches are available for purchase or your child may bring a lunch from home. You may enroll your child in the English as a Second Language program if he/she has shown a need on the English Enrollment Test.
Parochial schools: These schools are affiliated and partially subsidized by a church; tuition is paid by the family. Children learn the same basic subjects as in conventional public schools but may also study religion. Usually children are required to wear uniforms and may be subject to more rigid guidelines. Some parochial schools separate the girls from the boys, but this is no longer the norm. Hot lunches are provided at the school and you may be asked to volunteer with various school activities. To enroll and/or learn more information about the schools available to you, look under "schools" in the Yellow Pages.
Private schools: These schools are fully funded by families and outside donations. The philosophy of the schools varies greatly so parents should visit the school and read about its philosophy before enrolling children.
Most Michigan towns and cities have a public library where residents can obtain a library card to check out materials, including books and videos, for a set period of time. Fines are charged if the materials are returned after the due date. Click here for a list of Michigan public libraries.
Adjustment of your dependents
Some international students may bring their spouse and children to with them to live in Kalamazoo. At least initially, dependents will also go through an adjustment phase that can be very different from the adjustment period of the international student. In most cases, dependents cannot work. If the family’s economic status has changed due to the move to the U.S., this can also lead to more frustration for the spouse, especially if the spouse was used to having help with house chores and child care. The best way to overcome these difficulties is to get busy, meet other people, and find ways to avoid monotony as much as possible. There are several resources, but sometimes there are so many activities offered for children and families, you may not know where to look first; the “Life at WMU” and “Living in Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA” sections of the handbook offer a list of things to do both on campus and in Kalamazoo.
Domestic Violence: Academic and family responsibilities in unfamiliar surroundings far from friends and family often cause strains within the families of foreign students. Sometimes that strain can lead to domestic violence, or spouse abuse. Domestic violence ranges from mildly abusive actions to severely violent, life-threatening behavior. In the United States such occurrences are no longer sanctioned as private family matters. Temporary shelters are available in most communities for victims of family violence. If you need help, you can contact the local agency:
YWCA Domestic and Sexual Assault Program and 24-hour crisis line: (269) 385-3587