Staying after class with Isabel Xu

All four of Yew Chung International School’s campuses in Shanghai are led by Co-Principals – one Chinese and one International leader -- who oversee the school’s mission to provide students with international learning opportunities and experiences. Isabel Xu, Co-Principal at the Gubei Campus, shares about her experience at YCIS and the school’s international community.

Where are you from, and how long have you been in Shanghai?

Shanghai is home for me, it is where I grew up and where I am bringing up my family. I have lived here for most of my life, except for a period of time when I taught Mandarin in a UK public school.

How long have you been at YCIS and what drew you to the school?

I joined YCIS in 2006, so this is my 10th year at the school. I immediately saw and felt the great community philosophy and realised it was an opportunity for me to try something new by teaching Chinese as an additional language. I would say that it was both the school’s philosophy and the proprietary Chinese programme that originally drew me to YCIS. I love that YCIS teaches students Chinese not only as a language, but we also engage students in the culture of their host country. It’s an ‘East meets West’ approach.

Tell us about your experience at the school over the years.

I started at YCIS ten years ago as a Chinese as an Additional Language (CAL) teacher, and I held several management positions before being promoted to my current Co-Principal role three years ago. I think my bond with the school gets stronger every year due to the strong sense of community at YCIS. When I walk through the school I can clearly see the benefits of our close-knit and caring community, and this is a very special part of my YCIS life.

What does a day in the life of a Co-Principal look like?

No two days are the same, really, which is part of what makes my job so interesting. Normally, I arrive at around 7:30am and meet with my Co-Principal, Dr. Richard Swann. We discuss scheduling and decisions we have to make. The experience of working with a Co-Principal partner is almost like being in a marriage, except we are working together for the good of our ‘school family’!  It’s also a great example for our students to see two people from two different cultures working so brilliantly together.

As I move around the campus during the day, I have the opportunity to enjoy interacting with colleagues, students, and parents. Being visible around the school is very much a part of creating a sense and feeling for the community. I often stand at the gate just to welcome the children and their parents in the morning, and during there are many fantastic school occasions I get to attend, such as sports tournaments, performances in art, music, and drama, and the community events our amazing Parent Organisation (POP) hold.

What would you say makes YCIS unique?

I would say that there are a few key things that differentiate YCIS. First, we teach a unique, internationally-aligned curriculum, where students have access to the best of learning opportunities from a myriad of cultures. This results in the second point, which is that, because of our programme of learning, our students receive consistently strong results year-after-year, leading YCIS to be the only school in China to have received the Cambridge Award for Excellence in Education. Third, I would also say that our learning program prepares our students to successfully matriculate to top universities all over the world – schools that really have the right programme for each individual student.

How does learning Chinese benefit international students?

At YCIS, studying Chinese language provides our students with the tools to access Chinese culture. Not only do they learn a new language, they also learn new perspectives, helping them to think cross-culturally and broaden their world view. Throughout the year, we provide the students with experiences that connect them with people of their host country. Their language skills and cultural understanding helps them make the most of these opportunities.

Tell us how learning Chinese helps YCIS students after graduation?

Beyond enhancing university applications, there are definitely long-term benefits. A YCIS graduate has a significant advantage as they move into professional life, where they are able to adapt and contribute to the demands of a dynamic and changing world, and an understanding of Chinese can be a huge asset.

What has been your proudest achievement at YCIS?

Actually, I would say that every student at YCIS makes me proud, and when I say every student I really mean every student. A YCIS learning experience is about finding out who you are, where you are going, and what you will do in order to get there. I love to see our students experience this inner growth. I like to see them grow up to become great people and succeed in their lives. Each year, the moment our Year 13s graduate and receive their YCIS Diploma is a special highlight for me.

What is your favourite thing to do with your family in Shanghai?

My husband and I have a lovely little 5-year old son, so spending time with him is our priority. We enjoy visiting interesting places here in Shanghai, and we are always looking for new restaurants to try excellent food from around the world. We hope our little boy grows up with an international mindset (and taste for international food!) just as we have!

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