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We are Wellington | From Tianjin to Shanghai

20 February 2019
Wellington College has enjoyed more than seven school years in China, starting with the Tianjin campus which opened in 2011. Many of our families have been part of the College’s presence in China since the very start and have seen the schools and the wider Wellington community grow to its present standing. Ester Keuning – year 5 class teacher and English Coordinator – and her daughters are one such family. Ester has taught at both the Tianjin and Shanghai Colleges, while Patsie was part of Tianjin’s first graduating class, and Laeticia is now in year 10 in Shanghai. As part of the We are Wellington series, they share their experiences of life at both the Tianjin and Shanghai Colleges.   Early days at Wellington College in Tianjin Ester: Settling into Tianjin, both the school and the city, came with a lot of excitement and challenges being the first ones there of a newly founded school. However, my early memories of that time were ones of lots of laughter and making great friendships because we were all finding our way together. As pupils, as teachers, as people getting used to life in China, we were all discovering these things together and that made for a wonderful bonding experience. As the founding teachers and families, we were building our own structure, forging the curriculum and shaping the culture of Wellington College in China. It was a challenging time for certain, but a rewarding one too. Patsie: I remember getting the feeling that life was about to be totally different when mum said we were moving to Wellington. I arrived in year 12 and at the time there was no year 13, so I was with the oldest pupils in the school in a small year group. I definitely came out of my shell because we had to make our own path. We were the first of the first and we were at the forefront of everything. We were the football team, the volleyball team, I started the student council and was its president. I think that being encouraged to do all of these things meant we were essentially forced to mesh, and beautiful friendships grew from it due to the small and intimate nature of the school. Laeticia: There was a very noticeable family feel from the start. I really liked how nobody minded the age gaps; you could be friends with whoever you wanted and nobody was going to exclude you. It’s something I got used to at Tianjin and it’s the same way here at Wellington in Shanghai even though the school has grown.   The current state of Wellington Patsie: I came back to Wellington to work with the Shanghai marketing department for an internship and it has been a fascinating and eye-opening experience for me as an Old Wellingtonian. It’s clearly the same ideology and setup, but coming back and working here has shown me how well-oiled Wellington is now, improving, learning and consolidating. That’s not to say that Wellington has become overly slick or superficial, because it’s very obvious to see that it still maintains the family feeling that made the early years in Tianjin so special. Ester: I think an important part of this kind of success is the fact that internationalisation has clearly embedded itself here. Wellington has a British based curriculum but the College has become so much more open to international ways and ideas as it has grown. Just looking at the way we encourage global citizenship demonstrates this attitude. It’s great to see how it has taken root so strongly and I think it’s what helps the school to maintain its appeal as it grows – we don’t just sit back and copy/paste, we innovate and try new things to make Wellington the best it can possibly be. Laeticia: I was in Wellington Tianjin for three years and currently I’m in my third year here at Wellington Shanghai. I think the past three years represent a big change for me as I’m now in year 10, studying for my IGCSEs and have come into my own in sports and other activities. The main thing I like about my daily life at Wellington is how it opens your mind to so many new things. I really enjoyed being in musicals in Tianjin but then I became more interested in exploring different sports here in Shanghai. What’s also important is that we don’t have to be too attached to one group. I happen to really like sports, but I know I can participate in the next musical and I would have a lot of fun. As for my studies, I’m really enjoying the academic challenge of IGCSE. Fortunately, it doesn’t feel like a shock to the system as I’ve been well prepared for it. In year 9, my teachers were already outlining what we could expect, and the challenge is naturally being increased because that’s the way it has to be.   Sense of community Patsie: In Tianjin, we were almost thrown together as a community straight away. We had to overcome challenges with language, where to get things, how to deal with official paperwork, things that we had never considered before. It was intense stuff but it was a genuine bonding experience too. We were essentially all neighbours too, so we were literally very close! Ester: Shanghai feels very different because it’s a much easier city to navigate and after all this time there’s plenty of experienced people to help guide the newcomers through everything. Regardless, it has done a great job of maintaining that close-knit community feel, mostly due to the effort the College makes to communicate openly and give plenty of opportunities for everyone to get together and get involved. There are so many amazing events that people look forward to each year because they have been made special through a shared history where everyone joins in. Laeticia: The house system is another part of why the community is a close one, because it’s done very well here. I remember talking to my older sisters and thinking that their houserooms looked really cool and nicely decorated, they were places where people had a sense of belonging. I was keen to experience that myself, and it definitely lived up to my expectations when the time came.   Fond memories Laeticia: From Tianjin, I clearly remember walking to school with my friends from all different year groups, excited about what would happen that day. Everyone was just there to have fun and learn. More recently, I think my best memories are of things like the annual Arts Festivals. We have the opportunity to enjoy a lot of cool experiences that go beyond the normal school day routine and it definitely helps keep things fresh and exciting. Ester: I’ve too many fond memories to list, but it’s mainly the people who stick in my mind. Good people are what make a place and a time feel special, and there’s no shortage of those across Wellington. I know staff members and their children from our Tianjin days that have supported the founding of Wellington in Shanghai and it’s like an extended family, which is very important in an international lifestyle. It’s made for a lovely sense of continuity, for me and my girls. Patsie: I vividly remember all of the founding teachers and families at Tianjin, we really were a big family. I remember running around the new school with my friend, just before the school opened. I had bubbles in my stomach with all the excitement! Coming back to Wellington after five years, I can appreciate what the College has given me. Just as the College expects of the pupils, it learns from experiences. Wellington holds on to and builds on the positive while also continuously improving and finding better solutions. Working here has shown me that this school is ahead of its time in a lot of ways. Just today, we saw British inventor Richard Browning fly across the main sports field wearing the jetpack he invented – that’s a pretty incredible thing for any schoolchild or adult to witness! More relevant articles :