Episode 4: Learning Without Borders

Emma and Elizabeth talk about what studying in an international school is like after having been homeschooled and the differences between studying in various institutions.

Spotting Differences

Emma: How does learning these subjects in school compare to learning about them in homeschool? 

Elizabeth Chernyak: In school, you are guided more by the teachers because if you are doing some sort of examination you have to know what you would be tested on. In psychology, you could learn all these concepts and you could learn all of these cool theories and everything, but you still need to be able to pass the exams. You need to know that you might not actually be tested in all this content. For paper one, you will only have an ERQ, which is a long response question and three small questions, and you have to prepare a certain amount of cities for those and they all have to be from a hundred list of studies. So without the guidance of a teacher, I would not know what I’m expected to do in the exam.

Emma: When you were homeschooling was it more of an online school or was it your mom or dad teaching you?

Elizabeth: It was a little bit of both. For math, I was doing Khan Academy and I was also doing the Lithuanian curriculum and just a little bit of everything mushed together in one piece. So that was online and on paper. Then for chemistry, I was doing it on this website called Rice University. It’s a university website but they have a curriculum for their chemistry. So I think it was a little bit of everything.

Emma: You mentioned that you were in school in Canada and Lithuania / Germany, but that situation was a little bit complicated. So what’s the difference between public school, international school, and home school? What are the main points that you could pick up on and say yes, this particular thing was different?

Elizabeth: I think your national school is definitely more challenging because it’s IB. I mean it’s still international school or whatever, but the program that is offered is definitely more challenging than what there was in Canada. In the Ontario program in Canada, I did some classes ahead of where I was. I was in Grade 10 and I did Grade 11 in math, biology and physics.

Then I came here and biology is quite similar, but math is just so much more difficult than what I did in Canada. I’m not taking physics right now because IB doesn’t let you do all three sciences, sadly, but from what I’ve heard from my friends, physics is much more difficult. So I think that IB prepares you more for University. When you’re home schooling, you get to choose your own subjects that you want to do. I wasn’t really keen on doing humanities and language. I’m happy to be doing them now because I realised that they allow you to be more holistic in your approach to life. But when you homeschool, that allows you the freedom to choose your own courses that you want to do and go at the pace that you want to.

Schooling and Socialising

Emma: What are some of the common stereotypes that you faced in school, having lived overseas and being homeschooled?

Elizabeth: Well the first time the people here find out that I’m homeschooled, they’ll be like “oh, oh really?” I have to explain to them that it’s actually really nice. Then people will ask if I have enough friends. Well yes, you guys are my friends! I think that now people in my school are really understanding. It was really nice to explain to people that homeschooling is actually completely normal, you’re not an awkward person you know? You’re completely normal, I mean as normal can be. 

Emma: I mean, at the end of the day we’re all people with our own stories and I think there are definitely perks to both schooling and homeschooling. For me, I appreciated going to school for those couple of years because that was when I learned how to deal was different kinds of people. I was there for my kindergarten years to my grade one years, but the entire time I was bullied. It’s kind of sad but it was an interesting experience because you’d think that the kids are so small, how do they pick on each other?

But it happened. I think as a homeschooler, people often assume that you don’t go through the same social hardships that another person might go through in school. And I’m just really glad that I went through that period in school because now when I speak to people who go to school and they go “yeah, I had this rough teacher, it was just a really long day at school, this person was saying these things about me.” I can say, “hey, I relate to you, and I don’t know exactly what it is that you’re going through, but I kind of understand.” You can build trust in that way as well. And it’s honestly helped me talk and meet so many people because as you said, they say “oh you’re homeschooled, how do you make friends?” I just really learned about this social hierarchy.

Elizabeth: I think the social hierarchy still exists in homeschooling. There definitely are cliques and if there is a big homeschool event, you’ll still see some people are just with some people and others are sticking to their own people. I think it’s just a thing with people because I’ve never been to a place where there aren’t groups.

Your Brain is a Sponge

Emma: Actually, while we’re on the topic of traveling, don’t you have a travel instagram / youtube channel?

Elizabeth: Yeah, so on Instagram we’re called across.many.oceans. It’s mine and my sisters travel adventures and life in Singapore. And then our YouTube channel is just Elizabeth space Daniele. It’s about our life in Singapore and I really am going to say that all of the credits for the channel go to homeschooling, because without homeschooling we would not have had the time to start it. I think a lot of the time people think that YouTube channels are so easy, just film the video, put it on. But no, it requires so much time. It is much more work than we anticipated and I think without homeschooling we would not have been able to get into them mindset of constantly doing it – “okay I have to do this because it’s sort of like my job now.” I mean, we only have 250 subscribers…

Emma: …but you feel responsible and accountable for something. Actually, it’s kind of like that with the podcast. I initially thought I just turn up, talk, and then leave. This is so much more work than I thought it’d be! And I’m really glad that we’re homeschooling because I would never have been able to manage both this and the structure that you get with school. I’m very blessed because my homeschool curriculum is all text-based.

Elizabeth: I think it’s really nice to be living in a time and age when you have internet. Imagine having to study everything by yourself from textbooks, when you have nobody to explain it to you. So I think we’re very lucky to be living now. 

Emma: Especially with the internet, like you were saying. We’ve got so many resources. If you don’t know how to do something, you can type it into Google. Whereas maybe 50 years ago, you’d actually have to go down to a library. It’s crazy to think that some people had to go down to a library to get something done.

Elizabeth: Many years ago, they had a different experience of schooling. I think now, no matter what school you go to you will definitely have a different experience. One thing is that when you transition to school from homeschooling, you’re gonna be faced with more people. You’re gonna have teachers that you might like or you might really love or you might not get along with as well. But most importantly, you’re in school to learn. When you’re homeschooling, you also have to learn and learning is the main part of anything we do. 

Emma: And learning is definitely not confined to the classroom. We homeschool and we go to school to get an education, but at the end of the day, learning is really a mindset. Your brain is a sponge and a long time after the whole schooling experience is over you’re still learning. Like you said, everybody’s experience with school is different. Yours sounds pretty fantastic, whereas mine was less so. At the same time, the things that we learn have inevitably shaped us into becoming the people that we are today.

Follow up interview (2023):

1. What do you do now?

Elizabeth: Now I am finishing my second year at University of Toronto. I am double majoring in Cell and Molecular Biology and Drama, and I absolutely love studying here. I am also involved in multiple school groups, such as one of the student governments and a theatre troupe. 

2. Compared to the last time you were with us, what has changed?

Elizabeth: It has been I think three or four years, so quite a bit. I did end up going back to school for grade 11-12, because somehow that opportunity arose and I decided to do something new. I also got one grey hair in those few years (I am sad).

Like the rest of us, I had to figure out how to maintain a clear mind throughout covid, and then had to see how to do well in online classes in university. I think the fact that I had homeschooled before really helped when it came to doing classes online, as I had already learned the skills required to be disciplined and ensure that you are actually doing all of the work needed to do well in the course.

3. Do you have tips or tricks for teen homeschoolers who want to continue homeschooling?

Elizabeth: When thinking about university, this is at least my experience in Canada, homeschooling is not something that should, or really can, deter you. There are many universities here that happily accept homeschoolers and support them, as they especially want to have people that are able to work independently and still reach their goals. 

I think the most important thing to remember, however, is that whatever you do, you are doing it to better yourself and to gain experience and knowledge. When you homeschool, you have to really depend on yourself to actually finish all of your work. You have to make your own structure.

Sometimes, it can get quite dreadful learning certain subjects, but no matter what, you must know that what you learn now will make you wiser and filled with more knowledge and skills in the future, and thus you must persevere.

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