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Back to School: Get Yourself Ready!

September, 2008
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  After an extra long summer holiday, everyone is now back in school, whether you like it or not! The start of the new school year means new friends, a new grade – and new students. The LittleStar Student Team interviewed new students at some International Schools around Beijing and found they had some very intriguing comments. We also have found the best advice or solutions for their concerns.


**Cultural Stress: Inevitable but Manageable

Mohau MAMATELA, Year 7 student at Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS)

Coming from South Africa, this is the first time for Mohau to be studying in an international school. She chose YCIS as her parents said it is a good school and one that upholds Christian values. She will be studying here for 3 years.

Like most newcomers, her difficulty is adjusting to the new surroundings as well as a lack of friends.

“I am a bit nervous for this new school year as it is my first international school experience, and I really don’t know what to expect,” said the girl. “But I am working on it. In the compound I live in, I have already [made] some friends that speak French.”

What the Expert (Ron Drisner, YCIS school counselor) Says:

  As a school counselor at an international school, it is usual to have new students come to see me who are completely overwhelmed and who think something is seriously wrong with them. They feel tense, fearful, tired and irritable, and they aren’t reacting to things the way they usually would.

  What they are experiencing is “cultural stress”. Cultural stress is the anxiety people have when they move to a new country and they have to learn new ways of thinking and doing things. The stress of living in a new culture can be “unnerving”, but it is a normal reaction and things will get better!

  Here are some tips to help decrease your cultural stress:

  Be Aware. Realize that cultural stress is normal for those living in a different country with a very different culture than their own. Also, look at what factors cause you the most stress and look for possible solutions.

  Be Open. Try and be willing to see the host culture as a different but valid way of life, and see the positives in it, as well as what you can learn from it.

  Find Friendships. Don’t isolate yourself from everyone from your home culture, those who you can relax and be yourself with. Finding people you have things in common with will help you feel less alone and help you have more energy to deal with the unfamiliar.

  Take a Break! Learning to interact in a new culture is exhausting. Make sure you are regularly doing relaxing activities like exercise, music, reading, art, dancing and going out with friends. These can go a long way to bringing your stress level down.

  Know Yourself. Know your strengths and who you are. Learning a new culture involves learning new things and allowing yourself to be changed, so determine the areas that are “unchangeable” and the areas where you are willing to challenge yourself.

  Can cultural stress be prevented?

  The answer to this is simple. No! Stress in general cannot be prevented—we all experience it in life. Trying to become at home in another culture can be a challenging but also a rewarding venture, as long as you are taking care of yourself!


**A Curriculum Comparison

Nidhi Gupta, Grade 7 student at Beijing City International School

  Nidhi Gupta from India is very excited as it is her first time at an international school and also her first international trip.

  “I expect to learn many new things here and to know about the cultures of different countries,” she said. “I expect an enhancement of knowledge of every subject like math, English, science, etc. I expect exposure to many curricular activities and to become more knowledgeable and smart.”

  Well, she is nervous about the syllabus of different subjects like math, English, science etc. “Will it be easier, more difficult, or better than the syllabus of her previous school in India?” In Grade 8 in India, there is one national exam, which she needs to take after she goes back to India.

  “So here I need to get that syllabus and get that level so that when I go to India, I go directly to that level of Grade 8 and 9,” said Nidhi, adding, however, that she finds the syllabus here comparatively better than in India. Because the standard here is very high, every subject like in science, chemistry, and math are set in a very clear manner.

  “There are many more things that I may not learn if I would be in India next year.”

What the Expert (Pushpa Dasari, BCIS Upper School Learning Support) Says:

Well, I do know that the educational system is different in India to what we actually have here at our school because we offer the IB Middle Year’s Programme (MYP) and the Diploma Program.

  It is difficult to answer simply whether the curriculum is harder here or there because the emphasis in the curriculum is so different. I know that in India they really focus on exams. So a lot of the time, the kids are learning a lot of content. And it is very much exam-driven to a certain extent. So there is a lot of content the kids must get through. Whereas in the MYP, there is definitely a lot of vigorous content, but there is also an emphasis on creativity and development in other areas for the child.

  My advice to Nidhi is to look at what are the requirements for the MYP. If they know how long they are going to be living here, and if the parents and the child know at which grade she needs to be in India or she is going to be turning to India, perhaps she could look at what we are covering in different subjects, and compare it to what the kids will be covering there. In this way, she can look for points of correlation. If there are particular topics that are not covered while she is here, parents could always get somebody, a tutor, to assist her.

  So it is a difficult question to answer, because the programs are different. But I think most probably, whatever the skills she would need to employ when she goes back home, she will definitely learn it here, because this program is very inquiry-based. The children definitely develop skills of inquiry in many different subjects. They definitely develop common thinking skills. If she has that developed, it will be easy for her to be able to fit into different curricula because she has already had the skills; it’s just a matter of applying it to different content.


**A Harmony of Differences – How Diverse Learning Styles Can Be Helpful

Elizabeth Wu, Grade 10 student at the Canadian International School of Beijing

  Elizabeth Wu has been to three different kinds of schools since she came back to China at the age of 11 – Fang Cao Di Primary School, Beijing World Youth Academy and Canadian International School of Beijing. Fang Cao Di primary school is a Chinese-run school with an international section where the expats kids from overseas come. Fang Cao Di was based more on morals and traditional education of Chinese schools, so in the international section, though everything was not so uptight, there was still tension and competition.

  “When I came back from the United States, I wasn’t a very good student. I didn’t do my homework when I was little. And going to Fang Cao Di made me realize the importance of doing homework,” said Wu.

  Now, being at the Canadian International School of Beijing, she says she has nice teachers and learns in a great atmosphere, and learns as friends. Still, she has to do homework, but the teachers are very friendly and always available to help her when she needs something.

  “The atmosphere in an international school is in great contrast to traditional Chinese schools, where many students are pushed down and have too much pressure and, therefore, cannot learn freely as an independent learner. This less strict atmosphere gives me more time to read about things that I like in learning.

  “I think going to Chinese schools gave me a sense of learning, and motivated me to be who I am today. Going to different types of schools made me stronger and more experienced as a student.”

What the Expert (Jade Harrold, CIS Grade 4 homeroom teacher) Says:

It is easier for those students who have attended different types of school to adapt when they come into new situations. Even if it is just a classroom activity, they can easily figure out what needs to be done, and they are able to do it because they have been adapting throughout their whole career.

  If it is a student who has only been to one school in his/her life is then uprooted and moved quickly, he/she really has a difficult time transitioning into that. Whereas these children who are moving and getting different experiences, they are learning how to adapt, how to change quickly.

  Those students that come with a lot of experiences are very well rounded. If they have been at Chinese schools and they understand Chinese customs; if they were at an international school that’s based on Canadian curriculum, they are learning about Canadian geography and Canadian values. If they have been at schools that had a German curriculum or Spanish curriculum or French school, each one is bringing in different things. So they become really great global citizens.”


** Time Management - A Concern for All Students

JaeHee Jang, Grade 11 student at Beijing City International School

  Getting into Grade 11, JaeHee Jang feels “the more he grows up, the more pressure he has.” In the two years before university, he as well as his classmates has to do a lot of things and tests. He hopes to get better in not only studying, but also sports and other exciting activities.

  “You know, this period of life is very important for your future. This 11th grade in high school is absolutely important. As a new student of IB class, I am nervous about lack of the time, because we know that time-management is really important in this season.”

  “To better manage my time, I think the first thing to do is finish my things that I have to do, then work on some other stuff,” Jang said. For example, after school I’ll finish all my assignments first, the school stuff, then I have my own time for my stuff, like playing guitar, or something else. “I see time management as my own responsibility. They (parents and teachers) can advise me, but finally I think it’s up to me.”

  In fact, time management is a concern for all students. If you don’t manage your time, what can you do?


What the Expert (Pushpa Dasari, BCIS Upper School Learning Support) Says:

I think it is good that kids are concerned about time management. If they are concerned about it, it means they want to do something. Here in the school, a key issue about time management is prioritizing your time. Doing what is important first, and doing the other things if you have the time.

  I always tell my students that what they should do for themselves is to create a weekly planner. The reason is that it’s something that the children can create as colorful as they want to, and put it up, then they can always have a visual image of their time.

  So I always encourage my kids to create a weekly schedule for themselves, and then start putting in different activities in different days. It helps children to feel more relaxed, and less stressed, simply because they know what they are doing now rather than just having it in mind and worrying about it. This also helps them to prioritize their homework. For example, if they have homework that’s due tomorrow and homework that’s due in two days’ time, they can see they need to do the more urgent work first.

  As teachers, we have a big role in helping kids. I think parents can help their children with time management, help them to create a schedule and prioritize things.

  Well, we should make sure that the kids are not overloaded. Kids today have so many different activities that are trying to get their attention. So it is important for parents to also see that the children are not overloaded.

  Another guideline I would give children when they are working with time management is to be very careful of time wasters. For example, sometimes when kids go home, they switch on the TV, sit down, and just watch whatever is going on. That is a time waster. I am not saying they shouldn’t watch TV. But what they could do is decide which program they want to watch and watch during that time.


** Small School versus Big School

Hannah, Year 6, Harrow International School Beijing.

  Hannah chose Harrow International School Beijing because it is a smaller school, and she thought a smaller school would be nice.

  In her old school, there were 2000 kids, and the students were more aggressive when playing sports. She thought that in a smaller school she could become more involved in friendly competition and “become more confident and do more sports”. She has studied in four international schools, so she knows what she’s talking about with how school size can affect a student. Having just begun high school, she is a little nervous about making friends, which she thinks will be easier in a smaller, more intimate environment too.

What the Expert (Jack Pennell, Deputy Headmaster at Harrow International School of Beijing) Says:

A smaller setting aids especially well in the transition from primary to secondary school. At Harrow, for example, there are only ever 30-35 kids going into Grade 7 in one year, which means that students are not overwhelmed by how many new people they have to get to know on top of the increased workload and new rules.

  A smaller school enables them to put in place helpful things such as a “Buddy System”, where each new student gets a buddy from one of the older grades who shows them around and helps them out for the first few weeks. This helps with the identity crisis of moving from being the oldest children in their primary schools to the youngest children in a new and pressured environment.

  It can also be beneficial to have some sort of split between the high school and primary school sections so as to cater more to the needs of each section and allow them to participate in activities such as going to the Bird’s Nest to watch the Paralympics!


**The IB Diploma – Impending Doom? Or Just a Minor Obstacle?

Zainab Samad, Grade 10 student at Beijing BISS International School.

  Zainab Samad is excited about the new school year as she starts Year 10.

  “I think the new school year will be very exciting for me – all’s well that ends well!”

  However, she did express some concerns. “Well, I’m not really nervous about anything in Year 10, but yes, there is the nervousness of the IB Diploma I’ll be doing in Year 11 and 12, which depends upon this year.” In fact, the reason she chose Beijing BISS International School is that she thinks BISS is presumably one that could prepare her well for the rigor of the International Baccalaureate.

What the Expert (Jade Demnar, 2008 Graduate from Beijing BISS International School, with 43 points in IB Diploma exams) Says:

  Having just finished the IB Diploma course, I know how difficult and time-consuming it can be. People will tell you many horror stories about the IB, such as “you won’t be able to sleep before 3am” and “you will become totally addicted to coffee or Redbull!”

  However, the IB does not need to ruin your life in this way. If you (as hard as this may seem to be) do your homework when you are assigned it, you will not face nearly as many late nights.

  Also, instead of going out with friends Saturday and Sunday, spend Sunday at home catching up on homework – I used this trick and never went to bed later than 10:30pm for schoolwork in the whole of IB course.

  Completing the IB Diploma doesn’t mean you have to do fewer activities at school, it just means that when you are at home working, you should just be working. Work on an essay for an hour and finish it properly. Don’t try to work on it whilst talking to five people on MSN and changing your Facebook status, then it will take you 5 hours, and you will be going to bed in the early morning.

  There is no surefire way to get yourself through the final two years of school, but if you pay attention in class instead of passing that note to your friend (well maybe occasionally you can succumb to the temptation), you will find it much easier to review for the exams, and you won’t be the one saying “We never learned this! Well maybe we did, but I wasn’t listening! :S”


**Making Friends; It Get’s Easier and Easier!

Savannah    Shania
Savannah and Shania Fadling, Grade 2 students at Kinstar.

Savannah and Shania Fadling have just moved to Beijing, and this is their first time in an international school.

  “We are not sure how long we are going to be in Beijing, but we are most nervous about making a lot of friends,” said one of them, though they seem to be getting along very well with the other students although they still have some difficulties.

  “Because Chinese is hard for us, we are worried about making close friends quickly and easily.”

What the Expert (Frena Hailekeros, Grade 10 student at Beijing BISS International School) Says:

  Being a veteran student in Beijing for two and a half years and someone who has been to many different international schools around the world, I think one of the easiest ways to make friends and to tackle the problem of loneliness in a new school is just to smile and say hello to everyone you see in the corridor.

  When you study in international schools, making friends becomes easier and easier the more schools you go to. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard for the first month or so. I remember trying to make friends in countries where I didn’t speak the language (Italy) and finding it very hard.

  Again, smile! It means people at least know your face, and one day might ask you to eat lunch with them or come to a movie with them after school.

  Each day sit next to someone you hadn’t spoken to the day before. This way you will figure out who you like, and who you want to stay away from! If you are a little nervous about sitting with someone you don’t know, get someone to introduce you before class and then they will probably invite you to sit with them.

  Another helpful hint is to join a few clubs that you are interested in, and you will no doubt find other people who have the same interests as you! My three closest friends are all on the same Soccer team as me!


By Qin Chuan and Jade Demnar

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