Life After International School
International schooling prepares students for a more globalised outlook on life, writes Sophie Loras.
Celest Dines Muntaner has an Australian father, a Spanish mother and speaks four languages, and until 2012, China had been very much home for her and her family. Since graduating from Yew Chung International School of Shanghai however and arriving in Australia to study at the University of Melbourne, there have been numerous challenges for the biomedical student.
“I feel like I have had a different experience from other international students at Melbourne University. I look Caucasian so people have expected me to be Australian – but I have no cultural references,” says Dines Muntaner.
She often finds herself starting sentences with: “Back in Shanghai or in Spain…” which she says can come across as obnoxious to her fellow local Australian friends.
But she has no regrets about her international background.
Her parents had chosen Yew Chung because of its strong Chinese language programme.
“I’ve been very grateful for the Chinese, and I’ve become even more grateful since I got here to Australia and realised how many people here only speak English.”
At Yew Chung, Ms Dines Muntaner studied the International Baccalaureate, which she feels has helped prepare her for life at university. At school, she had friends from countries all around the world. Her two best friends at Yew Chung for example came from Hong Kong and India.
“I find it easy to get along with everyone. I took that for granted but I can talk to adults. I can talk to international students. But here, people seem to find it hard to talk to people who are not their own age or race.”
The key advantages to her international schooling have been the confidence and open mindedness that have come from living abroad.
“I think with international schools also comes adaptability.”
Ms Dines Muntaner credits this international upbringing with her ability to get along with anyone and identifies herself as a Third Culture Kid – students who are not Chinese but are not local Australians either.
Today, she is the President of Melbourne University’s Global Citizens club – a giant melting pot of 90 students – a mix of local and international students, graduates and undergraduates.
This has been an opportunity to meet likeminded friends with a large number of members from Asia.
“We meet a lot of people like us, who have lived in different places and have mixed race back grounds.”
Ms Dines Muntaner is also the Head of the Environment Committee at Melbourne University’s Queen’s College.
*Pictured left: Celest Dines Muntaner graduating from YCIS in 2012 with her friends Sushmita (from India) and Agatha (from Hong Kong). (Courtesy Celest Dines).
Melanie Vrba, the High School Principal at the Western Academy of Beijing, says the big difference between international graduates and home country graduates is that in general, they are more internationally minded than those who graduate from their home country.
“While studying at international schools, students are exposed to differing school cultures, to students from many backgrounds and to countries not their own. If we agree that travel can generally broaden our horizons, then living and studying at an international school can take this to a whole other level,” says Ms Vrba.
“My experience has shown me that when students know and come to care about those who are different from them, they widen their view of the world. No longer can they hold tight to one way of thinking about the world. The International Baccalaureate has an interesting way of stating this. They say that students will understand that “others can be right in being different.” In many ways, regardless of the program on offer, international schools help students understand that there is value in multiple perspectives.”
Joanne Ross, whose son Nick graduated from Dulwich College Beijing and is now studying a Bachelor of Arts, with a major in Economics and Chinese at the University of Melbourne, says the international experience set her son up to move into university life anywhere in he world.
“Having graduated from an IB school in an international surroundings we felt that our son had had a very diverse all rounded education,” says Ms Ross.
*Pictured above: The World is their oyster. Graduates from Dulwich College, Beijing.
She concedes however that graduates from an international school environment have big changes to face when they go on to university. Nick was the only student to choose a university in the Southern Hemisphere from his year group.
“Although he is an Australian citizen he has spent very little time in Australia,” says Ms Ross
of her son’s move.
“He looks Australian, maybe has a slight Australian accent, but did he feel like an Australian? In fact, he could be labelled as a hidden immigrant. He was really keen to embrace the Australian way of life and get to know more Australians, however, upon arriving he was not quite sure where he fitted in, in fact he did experience a little bit of ‘culture shock,”says Ms Ross.
Having attended seven schools in seven countries, Ms Ross says her son is adaptable and
experienced at working out dynamics of groups, and fitting in has not been a problem in the end.
Matt Brent, who attended the International School of Beijing for several years in the late’90s before returning to Melbourne to finish his senior schooling, says living overseas has given him a global outlook and an ability to engage with anyone.
“I think the international experience makes you very comfortable dealing with people,” says Mr Brent.
“There were over 100 nationalities at ISB and I think that helps in the workplace. You see a person and a position – not a nationality. Sometimes you can feel comfortable in a situation where others don’t.”
Mr Brent studied international business and international relations at Deakin University – a course he probably wouldn’t have chosen without his previous China experience. And he has since returned to China – as the recipient of a Victorian Government Hamer scholarship to study Chinese in Nanjing and today, heading up Melbourne-based China consultancy business, Eighth Bridge, which sees him spending much of his time in Shanghai.
“There are some aspects to the work I do in my business that anyone with a commerce degree could do – but I think the ability to work with people in an international environment is the key.”
David Mansfield, Headmaster at Dulwich College Beijing says an international education has a distinctive quality that builds in norms to a student that are very difficult to create in a national based environment.
“At a basic level a high quality school is doing pretty much the same things the world over,” says Mr Mansfield.
An international school however, offers some extra dimensions.
“It is a melting pot of cultures and experiences from around the globe. Students at an international school will routinely become friends with other young people from a range of other nationalities and backgrounds. Religious and cultural exchange is commonplace.”
Mr Mansfield says students at international schools learn to adapt and adjust as part of the norm.
“Many ‘Third Culture Kids’ are globetrotters. They are used to making new friends, accommodating different worlds and confronting their own conservatism. An international school requires a child to think beyond themselves and to develop the skills and resilience to survive and, more than that, thrive in the new context in which they find themselves,” says Mr Mansfield.
“This is a life skill that gives them a huge advantage over a national who has lived in the same town for 18 years and then finds university a slightly overwhelming challenge. For the international student it is a much easier transition.”
Mr Mansfield says the curriculum taught at international schools nearly always shows an international bent – most offer the IB (international Baccalaureate Diploma) which he says, is a tried and trusted vehicle for providing an academic foundation for entry into any higher education jurisdiction around the globe.
“China specifically provides an excellent preparation for life beyond. There are particular combinations of cultural, environment and political challenges that ensure any student living here for any length of time has a string of life experiences that will build confidence and understanding for the world beyond. Learning Mandarin also is a life skill that most would recognize as a massive benefit as the new world economic order realigns and shifts East.”
John McBryde, the recently appointed Director of BIBS and CEO of the Beanstalk Education Group has spent 24 years working in Asia’s international schools sector, including 15 in China.
He has seen how the International Baccalaureate programme in particular helps shape and prepare international students for life in a globalised world.
Working at IB schools in China for 15 years, he can’t praise the programme enough.
“I believe it is the best programme for an international education with high quality, preuniversity programmes and is highly academic,” says Mr McBryde.
The IB diploma incorporates advanced higher-level course and accelerated programmes.
“IB graduates develop into mature young adults with international outlooks and have a strong focus on academia and being global citizens and I think that’s what the world needs more of. IB Graduates stand out in a crowd and they do very well at university and in the careers they pursue in later life.”
For Celest Dines Muntaner, the world it is at her feet.
“I’ve appreciated more what I have had,” she says. “
I appreciate so much more that I grew up speaking four languages and travelling and visiting family around the world.” ■