A reflection of international education in China

For expats, China is an exotic and chaotic location, and a culture so foreign it may feel as though you’ve moved to another universe. For many, part of a supportive school community can make or break a posting. Our five-and-a-half years in China were life-changing – and our three years at the Western International School of Shanghai (WISS) shaped many of our fond memories.

International schools in China

WISS was in fact our fourth school in China, and by far the most positive educational experience for our daughters Zali, Asha and Elise.

We first moved to Beijing in 2008 with a lofty goal of the girls becoming global citizens fluent in Mandarin. Zali (then five) spent a year at an experimental bilingual kindergarten before transferring to a bilingual international school, where the volume of homework was gruelling. During this period, Asha attended a local Chinese kindergarten.

On return to Australia in 2011, we sought out a school that offered PYP to ensure academic consistency should we ever need to move continents again. Fast forward 12 months and we found ourselves relocating to China for a second time.

I spent a great deal of time researching international schools in Shanghai and after touring five shortlisted schools, there was a clear winner – WISS. From the warm welcome I received from personnel across campus and the familiarity of curriculum, it was a good decision.

When we joined WISS in February 2012, Zali was in Grade 3 and Asha in Pre-K. We were immediately embraced by an amazing community of families from around the world. Our youngest Elise began Nursery in 2013 at the age of three, eagerly riding the bus to school everyday with her sisters, under the watchful eye of the bus ayi.


Three years at WISS cemented a love of inquiry-based learning. Now back in Australia, our younger daughters continue their PYP journey, with teachers often noting their enthusiasm for the learner profile. The girls are open-minded and compassionate; they foster inclusivity among their peers and are confident communicators. They are knowledgeable and principled, and pride themselves on being risk takers. Their confidence to step outside their comfort zone to try new things is inspiring.

PYP has shaped their outlook on life and I look forward to watching where it takes them in the future. Just this week, six-year-old Elise went to great lengths to explain the value of a growth mindset over a fixed mindset, concepts we parents were unfamiliar with at the same age.

International schooling is an amazing opportunity for all kids. WISS enhances that opportunity by providing an optimal learning environment in a close-knit, caring community. The girls learned much about themselves and the world around them during their three years at WISS. They often reflect on their time at WISS, recalling friends, teachers and learning with great fondness. And they would dearly love to return for a visit one day.

Our family's last day at WISS in January 2015.

Last day at WISS in January 2015.

Living abroad

Living abroad has taught the girls the value of learning foreign languages, even when you live in a predominantly monolinguistic country. Zali continues to study Mandarin in middle school while Asha and Elise learn Spanish as part of their PYP.

As a parent, one of the highlights of my time in Shanghai was being a member of the WISS Community Choir. Where else in the world would I have the opportunity to perform at Hong Kong Disneyland and on the racetrack before the Shanghai F1 in a choir featuring students, parents and teachers? It was a joy to be part of and an aspect of China I miss dearly. And every now and then, I seek out the Youtube clips to relive that moment in time.

The girls rode the bus to WISS every day.

The girls rode the bus to WISS every day.

Written by Sonia Cahill (WISS alumni parent) and adapted from an articled originally published in the WISS today ezine.