Supporting Our Leaving Students

Student Transition Counseling Programme for Leaving Students


Helpful articles for further reading: 

The Ongoing Cycle of Transition

Moving Abroad with Kids

Top Ten Ways to Move Abroad with your Kids

Making a Successful Move Abroad With Children

These articles are hand-picked by the UNIS counselors! Which one is your favorite?

Leaving UNIS Hanoi:

The act of arriving or leaving a community is always filled with challenges and opportunities. When we experience the transition cycle as it applies to moving in and out of a school, city and/or country, we might find discover ourselves feeling simultaneously overwhelmed and euphoric as we navigate the ups and downs associated with relocation.

As adults we often feel the responsibility for transitioning very heavily because relocating our families and children is an act that initiates impactful change. Whilst the vast majority of families in transition cope and thrive, it is also realistic to remember that many parts of a major transition are frequently cited as some of life’s most stressful events. All parents worry to some extent about the impact their choices will have on their children.

The good news? We have found that by working actively with individuals who are experiencing transition we can co-plan and prepare for ‘healthy goodbyes’. Being informed about the impact of transition, and having support along the journey, goes a long way towards helping you and your family have a successful move.

“Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy.

“Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal.” (Addison-Wesley, 1991, p.3)

The Transition Programme:

On this webpage you will find examples of the engagements that the Elementary School counselors use when working with our leaving students.

Many the sample student engagements below are focused on conversations that occur through completing a special UNIS Moving Journal (pictured below). The Moving Journal is an important feature of the transition process at UNIS. We believe that it becomes an important artifact for students to take away with them, acts as an communication piece between school, child and parents. In the Moving Journal your child will:

  • draw
  • write
  • collect pictures, signatures and quotes from friends and teachers
  • work on activities that frame their upcoming move positively, but also realistically
  • whenever possible, your child will work as a member of a small group of leaving students. Working in a group and hearing the stories and experiences of other children helps normalize the transition experience. In fact, your child may begin to feel that they are “not the only one” leaving and this helps them build a ‘can do’ attitude to their upcoming changes.

Students leaving our UNIS community work with our Elementary Counselors so that their ‘goodbye’ is as ‘good’ as possible.

These following sample engagements will be modified and adapted for each individual depending upon individual circumstances and age-level. We share them here so that parents might better understand the messages that the counselors provide to our departing students, and have the opportunity to reinforce this message in your own family discussions.

Session 1

My Journey so Far

An engagement to encourage students to reflect on past changes in their lives and connect with the present and future.

Examples of student engagements:

  • A map that students color-code
  • An annotated timeline (for older students)
  • Talking and writing about their time at UNIS, time in Hanoi and experiences in Vietnam

About You – Who are you?

An engagement to build awareness of individuality and an understanding that personal characteristics give us strengths to draw from during times of transition.

Examples of student engagements:

  • Provide students with ‘All about me’ sentence starters that can be added to the scrapbook. For example:

I’m so good at… My friends say that I’m… My parents say I’m… I like to…

Talking about your child’s strengths helps them realize that many  of the challenges of moving (like making new friends) will be overcome by the positive qualities, skills and attitudes that they already possess.

Session 2

You and your family need each other

Students are asked to think of ways that they can help their family to be ready to move. As ‘home learning’, students talk about these helpful behaviors with their family. They also consider the things that they will need to help them with their move.

Examples of student engagements:

  • Draw pictures of the family members
  • Students to ask their family members what help they need right now and record this in their journal.

e.g. “Mom needs me to give some of my toys away to charity”

e.g. “My little sister can be noisy , so I’m going to do my best to stop bugging her”

Students should show their work to their family and also communicate their own needs as a home learning exercise between this session and the next session.

What’s on your mind?

An engagement for students to document what is worrying them about the transition process. By putting worries down on paper students can become aware of what is troubling them and discuss strategies to ease these worries.

Examples of student engagements:

  • Students draw their worries in ‘worry bubbles’. They also consider who will help them to pop their worry bubbles? Families can add their own worries to the worry bubble page, and explain what they will do to pop their own bubbles.

For example: We might go back to the strengths that your child listed in an earlier session. It is greatly relieving for students who are worried about making friends to look at their list of strengths and realize “oh, I’m the type of child who is friendly, fun and can do lots of cool things!”

  • Students consider “what if…?” thinking and articulate what they have been unsure about. We model flipping “what if…?” thinking and looking for evidence that disproves it.

For example: “What if I don’t make friends at my new school?” = “What if I make a lot of friends at my new school?” (Flipped thinking) / What evidence do we have? (students identify their current friendships, character strengths and social skills and understand that these strengths go with them resulting in a strong likelihood that they will indeed make lots of friends)

Healthy Goodbyes: Relationships

An engagement to help students identify relationships that will be impacted by moving, such as family, friends, teachers, housekeeper or pets. Students understand that in order to leave well we must communicate our thoughts to the people that we connected with here.

Examples of student engagements:

  • Draw a picture of the person you are thinking about when you think about changing spaces.
  • Write a message to that person on a card or postcard. Postcards can be made available to students who want to write more than one or two – they can come back between sessions and drop in to write them.
  • Write a “you are special because…” page in their journal and show it to that person.

(students should be asked to think of their own examples here, as is developmentally appropriate).

Connecting with Hanoi/Vietnam (as appropriate)

Where appropriate (we understand that not all departing students are leaving Hanoi or Vietnam), students will consider what they can do to express appreciation and fondness for their housekeeper, driver or other local connections.

Examples of student engagements:

  • “Do you have a housekeeper that has cared for you and you care for her?” Students can consider making a card, letter, or give a personal gift (such as a toy to keep that has personal significance). Parents can help stick a picture of the housekeeper into the journal.

Healthy Goodbyes: Rituals and Objects

Students realize that leaving means that we will not return to places and spaces that we have enjoyed.

Examples of student engagements:

  • At a school level: Visit spaces, take photos, write favorite memories into the journal. Make time to “say goodbye” to favorite places on campus.
  • At a personal level: What can you do to remember your home? (Parent support by adding pictures into the scrapbook)
  • Make a secret time capsule: leave a special toy or message – consider burying it in your garden or compound.
  • Planning your 3-5 most important things to say goodbye to. Communicate that to your parents. What can we do to say goodbye to those things we need to part with? Nothing is too big or too small to say goodbye to.

Session 3

What I’m happy to leave

Students will identify the things that they are happy to say goodbye to! We will ‘give ourselves permission’ and make it OK to be cheerful about parting with some aspects from their Hanoi life.

Examples of student engagements:

  • Students draw or list parts of their life that they are happy to be saying goodbye to.
  • They could draw themselves happily and excitedly driving to the airport or boarding their plane.

New Space: Looking forward

Students begin to look to the future think considering where they are going through the use of the following visible thinking tool:

What do you know about your new space?

What do you need to find out?

What worries you about it?

Can you say in a sentence what you feel about your new space?

Documentation and Scrapbooking

At any time students can take photos, collect signatures, ask teachers to write messages in their journal.

Session 4

Class Celebration 

Students will be celebrated within their class community. Parents and the homeroom teacher are responsible for communicating a planning a time for the leaving student to be recognized by the homeroom class.

Examples of student engagements:

  • Parents bring a treat to share (e.g. cupcakes)
  • Room parents might prepare a leaving student gift
  • UNIS Alumni prepare a leaving student t-shirt
  • The homeroom teacher makes a scheduled time for students to play games and interact with the leaver.
  • The homeroom teacher helps lead a class meeting where all class members express a kind thought about the leaver.
  • The homeroom teacher provides time for the class to write messages in the leaver’s journal and/or yearbook.


Third Culture Kids, Growing Up Among Worlds, Pollock, D. & Van Reken, R.2009

Where In the World Are You Going? Blohm, J. 1996

Third Culture Kids: The Children of Educators in International Schools, Zilber, E 2009

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