Denén and Jolene Botha have lived anything but ordinary lives. Originally from South Africa, they moved to Saudi Arabia when they were just four and seven.
For the next 11 years, Denén and Jolene attended an international school with nearly 800 students. Their peers were from more than 54 countries around the world.
“We were exposed to so many different cultures in our school in Saudi Arabia,” said Denén. “Our friends were British, Pilipino, Islamic, Hindi and Christians. Having the opportunity to understand and be a part of so many different ways of life has really made us more open-minded and accepting people.”
“We learned about their religion, the food they eat, and the clothes they wear,” said Jolene. “I think these experiences help to make us more diverse and open to change. A lot of things don’t bother us.”
When Denén was a senior in high school and Jolene was a sophomore, the girls packed their bags once more, and moved to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates for their father’s job.
“It’s certainly difficult growing up in a country where you were not born and do not speak the language,” said Jolene. “But because I was so young when we moved to Saudi Arabia, it truly became my home. We are also excited to now be living in Abu Dhabi. The culture is less restrictive here, so we’ve had many new experiences.”
“In Saudi, we had to wear abayas and there wasn't much to do,” said Denén. “There weren’t any movie theatres or beaches where we could swim, and women were not allowed to drive. Now we can go out in our clothes, we can go to the mall, the movie theatres, and even ice rinks and sports clubs, which is something Jolene and I enjoy. My mom can take us places in the car, which makes it easier when my dad is travelling for work. We are also able to celebrate things like Valentine’s Day and Christmas openly here where as in Saudi we couldn't.”
With the move to Abu Dhabi, their family had to coordinate new visas and register for schools before the deadline. Their plan was to attend private school because they wanted to continue taking Advanced Placement® curriculum.
However, their visas took longer than expected and although the girls were accepted into three schools, they were a lot more expensive than in Saudi Arabia.
“While we were waiting for our visas, we learned about online options from our cousin in South Africa,” said Jolene.
The girls’ mother, Annene, began looking into online high school options and she had two major qualifications for the curriculum. The online school had to offer Advanced Placement® courses, and they had to be approved by the College Board®. They selected Apex Learning Virtual School because they had heard good things about the curriculum and it fit their mother’s criteria.
“Our school in Saudi had very limited courses options,” said Denén. “But with Apex we could take business, psychology, sociology, and AP Calculus. It was amazing because I could experience new courses. It was very eye opening. I discovered that I really enjoy psychology, which is something that I was never exposed to in Saudi. And it was so nice to have the flexibility to space out my work in between packing and moving to a new country.”
Denén also appreciated the opportunity to work at her own pace with online courses.
“I knew that if I didn’t put all of my effort into truly learning the material, I would not succeed,” she said. “I feel like I’ve always been good at working by myself. I’m a slow reader, and I love to take a bunch of notes and really understand the content before I go into a discussion with other people. Working online allowed me to have that time to learn on my own.”
But she still did not feel completely alone. When Denén did not understand a concept, she would ask her mother for help, look for additional resources, or work with her teachers.
“Even though there was a time delay, working with my Apex teachers was very rewarding,” said Denén. “They really got to know me. My chemistry teacher and my physics teacher spent the time to connect with me, and they were able to help me work through challenging content.”
Jolene also appreciates the benefits of taking online classes. She believes working online actually makes her a better student.
“I found I work better by myself because there are fewer distractions,” she said. “Yes, it can get kind of boring being alone in your room, but I was able to stay more focused on my schoolwork than at my previous school. I’m very dedicated to getting good grades and determined to learn. If I don’t understand something, I reach out to my teachers right away. If I was attending a traditional school, I’d have to wait for the teacher to spend time with me. I really think that homeschooling is a better option for me, and I wouldn’t trade it for a being a high school student in a regular school.”
Denén just recently graduated from Apex Learning Virtual School, and now she’s looking for a job and is preparing to take the SAT in March.
Jolene is a junior, but she has big plans for her future.
“I’ve known since eighth grade that I want to be a physical therapist,” she said. “I’m looking at colleges in the U.S., New Zealand, and Australia for the best places to study physical therapy and massage therapy.”
Their family is planning to move to another a country again in June or July, but nothing is firmed up yet. That doesn’t seem to faze Denén and Jolene.
“The world has so much to offer if you are open to new and different experiences,” said Denén. “We have been blessed. If more people could be open to exploring new cultures and experiences, the world would be a better place. There would be a lot more respect and understanding. We’re still young. I’m not even 20, and we’ve already visited countless places. I don’t know what my future holds, but I hope it will involve traveling the world.”