My inspiration for life adventure came from my father. He was an engineering fitter from Sheffield, but in the 1970s – a time when international travel was a relative rarity – he took a job in Mexico. I remember receiving airmail letters in which he included drawings of sailfish and Aztec ruins which, as a young boy, filled me with a sense of wonder.
As an adult, travel became a real passion. During the school holidays, myself and my wife Carol would jump on a plane from England to spend weeks at a time travelling to the Caribbean or Mexico, or driving around the USA and camping in its National Parks. Teaching positions in San Diego and Houston followed, and when we did move back to England with three young children, almost immediately the urge to move on, to experience something different, hit us once more. Bangkok was a world away from all of our western experiences, and despite my wife having just, once again, picked up her own career path as a nurse, she agreed to give it a try “for 6 months”.
We didn’t dare to research before setting off in case we weren’t doing exactly the right thing for our boys, but we did think “let’s just keep an open mind and be happy to experience and learn new things”. Our first contract was for two years, but 12 years later we are still here.
So, we arrived in Thailand with Sam, Zach and Jacob who started school in Years 7, 5 and 1. I knew that I had come to the right place when I first proved the quadratic formula to my class and got a round of applause! At first it was understandably tough for the boys, and especially Carol, who didn’t have a job, and had to get to know the city by herself, and reliant on local taxi drivers who didn’t always understand our accents or pronunciations! Our youngest, Jacob, was a tow head blonde who drew a lot of attention, and quickly took to riding my shoulders through our condo and shopping malls. Nevertheless, I think we were helped by the sheer business of life here; it was so hectic and so different that we quickly became totally immersed in our new lives.
Things were little bit crazy to begin with, and turning up for a “Greek Day” meal on Ekkamai with all Zach’s teachers dressed in togas was a little bit bizarre. It turned out that costumes and props were needed for all sorts of celebrations both at school and at our condo (floating krathongs on the swimming pool). In a city that was entirely new to us, having to source outfits ranging from Ring Wraiths to Ricky Ricotta, and pirates to Zeus, was a challenge that many parents will empathize with. Throughout all of this however, was the reassurance and stability of working in a fantastic school with the boys still receiving a British education grounded in the English National Curriculum. And it is why we have been here for so long.
Sam made great friends with students of every nationality during his time here, but especially with Thais. He had to compete with them for places in the sets for Math’s and was challenged by the standard of homework and the prodigious amounts of revision that they would do for every test. But I think it was this peer group attitude that led to his success. He went to University College London to read Geophysics, gained a First-Class degree, and went to Leeds to do his Masters, with a project in Chiang Mai that helped him obtain his first job. The company he now works for is based near Pranburi, but at the moment he is offshore from Denmark conducting geophysical surveys.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for him, however. Moving to London, with all of its inherent challenges, after 7 years in Bangkok, was not an easy transition, and the university didn’t seem to have particular sympathy for accommodating a home fee status student anywhere near his department.Fortunately, Sam has proven in many ways that he is tougher than he looks.
Zach loved almost every minute of his time in school, becoming an accomplished guitarist, performing in student led productions with utmost confidence, and picking up 12 IGCSEs and 4 A levels along the way. Zach took full advantage of all that school had to offer, forging a wide and loyal friendship group, and enjoying our travels in the region. He won an individual award for innovation in Thailand and ASEAN in the AEC and is currently studying Acoustical Engineering at Southampton, due to graduate this summer. His tutor is planning to add his name to his final thesis and for the paper to be published.
Jacob is now in Year 12 (that’s how I know how long we’ve been here), and he has wonderful support from his teachers. He loves English and Drama and has contributed in many productions, not least ‘Fusion’, stealing the show two year’s running with his dancing. As parents, we love Shrewsbury for the very fact that it is as cool to be in the choir, or to swing dance with your crew, as it is to be a star athlete. Jacob is working towards the Gold standard for the Duke of Edinburgh’s international Award which his big brothers achieved and which ensures that he does community service, skills and trekking with like-minded individuals from his peer group.
Like any expat family, each time a contract was up for renewal it was a huge decision time for us to stay or go. Naturally, the relative stages of our boys’ education has tended to dominate our thinking, but Sam’s especially as the examination years quickly came around for him. However, we have always been extremely happy about the level of care and support that Shrewsbury staff give to their students, and we were always confident that this was the best place for our own children not only to achieve the best possible grades, but also to develop their own interests. They have all been happy and confident learners here, and the school has helped to nurture life skills that will I know will help them to flourish at university and beyond. It has definitely been the right decision for us to remain. My boys all have world class qualifications that stand them in good stead for anything they wish to progress to, and quite a unique outlook on life to go alongside their credentials.
For my part, I have been fortunate to be able to balance an amazing lifestyle here with an incredibly fulfilling professional career. It gives me a genuine sense of pride when I see our Year 13 students, many of whom I will have taught as very young children, complete their A level exams and graduate to universities around the world. In addition to teaching Math’s, which I love, I have also been Head of Year, leading a pastoral team and organizing events and residential visits. I have been lucky to go on many expeditions with the International Award, and have dined out for years on stories of leeches in my belly button and porcupines eating their way into my tent. One thing I am particularly proud of being involved with is the Rotary Club Kid’s Day Out, which gives my students a life changing experience working with disabled kids to ensure they have a special day.
Carol has for many years now, also worked at Shrewsbury, most recently as a Learning Mentor. She spends her days supporting younger children, understanding the unique pressures they face both within school and beyond, and working with them to help establish a positive and productive approach to their school life. It’s a job she also loves, and I have to literally drag her away from school the end of each day. At home, she has a penchant for welcoming friends, and friends of friends (and even their friends too!), to stay at our apartment. We have a very active social life and there’s never a dull moment.
There is, of course, a price to be paid for working internationally and for educating your kids at an international school. You don’t have access to the familiar support structures of family or friends, and you miss out on spending valuable time with loved ones back “home”. We have spent a lot of money on flights to maintain contact with everyone, and to ensure that our boys were able to be exposed to British culture and absorb our own family values. However, we are also fortunate to be part of a very strong international community here in Bangkok, and our kids have grown up surrounded by friends, tutors and teachers who genuinely care for their wellbeing. The school’s pastoral and social programmer such as “Learning for Life” have also helped to give our own children the resilience to get through the tougher moments that all expat families inevitably experience.
The other side of the coin is that as a family, we are gaining something priceless; we have all been privileged to be guests in the Kingdom of Thailand for so long. Being together to experience all of Thailand’s wonders on family holidays, expeditions and residential trips, and being able to engage so regularly in activities we all love like swimming, snorkeling, wake boarding and diving is simply something we could not have done in the UK. I would never claim that our choices are better than anyone else’s but simply that we chose a different way to enjoy precious family time.
Importantly for us, there has been no compromise in terms of our children’s education. All of our boys have received a top quality British education, coupled with a deeper understanding of different cultures and a broader perspective on life and the world in which we live. Our move to Bangkok some 12 years ago was admittedly a bit of a ‘leap of faith’, but from where I stand today, I firmly believe that we made the right decision, and that our children benefited from an international education in the widest sense that will in turn give them the opportunity and confidence to forge their own futures anywhere they choose.
Chris Simcox, Director of Standards,
Shrewsbury International School.