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International School Stories: The Sharma Family

BIS Stories: The Sharma Family

A first-hand account of a family's experience at the British International School Ho Chi Minh City.

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The Sharma Family

The Sharma family moved from Singapore to Vietnam in August 2017 with their 2-year-old son Uday. After 21 months at the British International School HCMC they left Vietnam for a new adventure in South Africa. Here we speak to mum Ruchika about her family’s experience of settling into life at BIS.

Do you have any words of advice for new families moving to the city?

For an internationally mobile family, some challenges exist each time you move. You’re leaving behind secure networks of existence and moving into unfamiliar terrain where everything from home/school/transport/supermarket/friends and hobbies must be sought out and established. For myself, I found that fixing the practical necessities such as where we were going to live, how we’d get Uday to school, where we’d buy groceries etc. went quite a long way in easing the stress associated with a move. I also found using social media (Facebook and Whatsapp groups) helped me begin to feel like I knew something about Ho Chi Minh City before I even got there.

Remember that the BIS community is as accepting and enriching as you choose to let it be. During our first year in HCMC, we as a family did not participate in many activities organised by the school. In my second year, I got involved with the Parent Teacher Group (PTG) and I cannot say this enough - I received a hundredfold what I put in - in terms of friendships, knowledge, awareness (and of course fun)! I learnt how the international school system functions and why certain things are done the way they are. My respect for the hard work and thought that goes into the running of an international school like BIS increased tremendously, and I have come to realise why education is a partnership between the home and the school. These are not just words, there is a year's involvement that lies behind them!

I got involved with the Parent Teacher Group and I cannot say this enough - I received a hundredfold what I put in - in terms of friendships, knowledge and awareness.

Why did you choose BIS as your international school in Ho Chi Minh City?

In March 2017, 5 months prior to our move to Vietnam we went on a “look-see” trip which we used to select our home, school, and see 2 hospitals. From our prior research, we had already identified District 2 as the place we wanted to live and where Uday would go to school.

Usually, I like to narrow down the range of schools we look at to 2 or 3. In this case, we looked at two schools in Saigon in District 2. We chose the British International School Vietnam for a few reasons, that I talk about in no particular order…

Uday was shy and scared of crowds and loud noises when we came to Vietnam. In Singapore, he was going to school, but it was a teeny, tiny one for 20 children only! BIS encouraged social interaction within a secure environment. When he joined F1, Uday had about 19 kids in his class, with 4 adults to supervise and teach them. The open plan layout of his classroom meant that he was able to mix with a large group of children without even having to leave the room. Even when he was outside his classroom because he was on the dedicated Early Years and Infant Campus he was able to play with other F1 children in the Early Learning Centre, making a total of 120 peers and 16 teachers/assistants that he was interacting with on a daily basis. On top of this, he was exposed to music, the library, robotics and the gym where he learnt to interact with different primary specialist teachers and he was able to mix with children from other classes through the after school clubs programme. By the time we left Ho Chi Minh City, we were reaching school at 7:30am, but only coming back at 5pm since Uday would refuse to leave school while a single child remained for him to play with!

Another reason we chose BIS were the teachers. I had a small child, for whom a year is a lifetime, so I was really keen to meet his class teacher because I felt that he would be dealing with all the changes that we were (new culture/country etc.) and that the first person in whose care I left him had to be someone who really acted like they were in loco parentis. We initially met Ms Sarah Curran, whom I absolutely loved - she was upbeat, energetic and enthusiastic and just such a positive person, that I decided on BIS even without visiting the other school! It was only when my son started school that I realised Ms Sarah was the Assistant Head Teacher and that Ms Precious was my son's teacher! But what a lucky mistake that was - both of them were absolutely perfect in their roles, and both helped my son settle in well.

Finally, we wanted a system of schooling that would be accessible no matter where in the world we went next so that as our son grows older, he will be able to settle in quickly.  The Nord Anglia Education group is a large one, but even if one is not able to access it, as has happened in our case, the British system of schooling is available more or less all over the world.

The Sharma Family - British International School Ho Chi Minh City

What makes BIS unique?

From my experience, BIS really is a school centred around their community.

When I look back at our time in HCMC, it amazes me to think that Ms Sarah not only recommended my son's nanny and the An Phu Neighbours group on Facebook but also spent over an hour explaining exactly how and what my child was learning in F1 and how the skills he would build there would be developed over time at the EY&IC.

Similarly, in the initial months, Ms Precious encouraged playdates with peers and activities that would help my son build fine motor skills. Ms Mary got me to ride my first ever bicycle - one borrowed from BIS. I now can’t wait for the ship to arrive and bring my bicycle so that I can start riding it here!

When we learnt that we were leaving HCMC, the incredible School Counsellor, Ms Kim McWilliam provided such a supportive, open and positive view of our move and the way in which we were preparing for it. Again, although both Kim and I have now left the BIS community, we will stay in touch, and this could not have been without BIS making it possible for us to meet!

But more than this, I have found that when it is a question of your child's health, BIS is incredibly responsive and responsible. The Early Years and Infant Campus was judged the first-ever green campus in Vietnam but it always willing to improve on features that will benefit your child’s health. For example, during a community talk on air quality at the end of Term 2 a parent discussed a new system of colour coding that determined which activities the children were permitted to undertake. Even though the school had already been following a similar system, by the time we started Term 3 this new and improved version had been adopted!

This is not to boast, but to show that just 21 months at BIS has given my son a sense of who he is, how to interact with others and how to navigate in unfamiliar social situations.

How has Uday settled into his new school in South Africa?

In the words of my son's last class teacher, he is "a happy, confident and lively" child, and "a popular member" of his class. These are not empty words. My son joined his new school in South Africa and when I went to pick him up on his first day, he introduced me to his best friend! Not only is he happy for me to drop him off at the gate of the new school, but he also doesn't want to come back until the very last child has left the campus, and his new teacher says he is "a social butterfly". She is impressed by his confidence and sees how well developed his writing skills, problem-solving skills and language development are. This is not to boast, but to show that just 21 months at BIS has given my son a sense of who he is, how to interact with others and how to navigate in unfamiliar social situations.

The Sharma Family - International School Ho Chi Minh City

How did you feel leaving Vietnam?

While leaving HCMC broke our hearts, in the slightly misquoted words of Winnie the Pooh; “how lucky we are to have had something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

I have learnt that it’s ok to not be ok as you transition - I shed so many tears leaving HCMC. It’s impossible to list everything we will miss - people, places, our home, BIS...

Vietnam will forever hold such a special place in our hearts!

However, I write this from my balcony on a cold but sunny mid-morning in beautiful Johannesburg. I can hear and see incredible birdlife around me, a clear blue sky and breathe green, clean air. It is, of course, an adjustment, but I am looking forward eagerly to what the next few years have in store for us!

The Sharma Family

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