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The Intel: Students Take Us Inside the Shanghai International School Experience

What it's like to attend one of the UK's most respected schools, here in Shanghai.
2021-03-26 12:00:00
Photos: Brandon McGhee

Most of the existing guides to international schools in Shanghai are aimed at giving a bird's-eye view of this city's schooling options – but if we're looking at a bunch of factsheets and infographics, we may also overlook some of the qualitative aspects of education. What about all of the elements that combine to shape a young person in areas that are important on paper, and off?

To get that broader view, we asked five Senior School students from Wellington College International Shanghai about their education beyond the classroom. Since this class group covers ages 13-18, we spoke to students at the beginning, middle and toward the end of their Wellington Senior School experiences to get a fuller picture.

Here are their takeaways, in their own words.

1. We explore a variety of skills and subjects.

Sebastian, Year 9, Age 13

My favorite subject is history, but I think that during my early years, I didn't really understand the importance of all classes. Now I'm really happy that Wellington encouraged me to do drama. Before I thought it was just, flinging your arms around and making a silly squawk. Now I see that it allows you to appreciate drama as an art form, and to open your world to music.

Minnie, Year 12, Age 17

I'm taking higher-level economics, which is notorious for being really math-heavy, but the teacher here really brings the concepts to life and links them to current events. The biggest surprise for me was when I did the art program for IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education). I found that it's not really restricted to fine art. You can do screen printing, you can go on the sewing machine, there's a lot of different media that you can work in. I hadn't planned on it, but I had a lot of fun with that.

Tiggy, Year 9, Age 13

I enjoy anything to do with being creative, and at Wellington, I found a lot of really fun stuff to do with design, like robotics and woodwork.

2. We delve deep into the subjects we like.


The idea with the curriculum is, the higher the year, the more you know what you like and the more you get to specialize by choosing more of your own classes. You get to specialize from a wide range of choices. I started a Law Society with a few friends. We discuss legal concepts in reference to current events, and it's really great because our advisor is always there when we need something, and he gives us a lot of freedom to do it the way we want.

Sayali, Year 12, Age 16

I'm part of the Physics Olympiad Club which gets involved in a big international competition every year. We get a lot of support for that. We work in groups and we try finding out answers to some complex questions, and the teachers are really, really supportive.

Pictured: Christian (Year 9, Age 13)

Christian, Year 9, Age 13 (and twin brother of Sebastian)

For the languages, if there's one they don't have, like if you wanted to learn Japanese or Latin or something, you can pitch it to the person who is in charge. And if you prove that you are able to learn from the course, they'll bring someone on to supervise and teach it you. That's what I'm doing.

3. There are many ways to get involved in special interests and sports.

Pictured: Minnie (Year 12, Age 17)


CCAs (Co-Curricular Activities) are a nice opportunity for us to grow more creatively than perhaps we would be if we were restricted to more routine learning. And, of course, it's about taking a break, which is immensely useful given the stress that we have to undertake sometimes.


It's kind of open for students to make their own CCAs if we pitch them well. Like, I started this student-run CCA with a couple of friends, based on this card game we're really good at. And there's a wide range of CCAs. Sometimes they change it up, which can be frustrating, but overall, it's still interesting because you get different tastes of CCAs.


We just had a business competition. It was a CCA, and my group won the China regionals. Each group came up with a business idea to research, develop, and pitch. Also, with CCAs there are different seasons for different sports. So during volleyball season you get to play to compete, but on the off-season it's recreational volleyball, which means beginners can participate too.


I'm part of the school orchestra, and we get to perform concerts at school at the end of the year. I'm also in some sporting clubs. Before COVID, we used to go do tournaments internationally too, like in Malaysia. We also went to Beijing to compete against other schools in football or netball, and it was a great experience.

4. The house system connects us to tutors, counselors, and each other.

Pictured: Sebastian (Year 9, Age 13)


Our house system – it's kind of like in Harry Potter, except there's no sorting hat... that I know of.


In the houses, you get to know people from different years even if you never have any classes together. The school organizes lots of activities that allow pupils different ages work together. The houses also have competitions against each other in events like Sports Day. These are a lot of fun and bring you together with the other people in your house.


Generally, you get a sense of pride about your house. We represent our houses in a competition. If we win, we get bragging rights.


Each house has a housemaster, and each year group within the house has a tutor. And if you need any help with schoolwork, that's pretty much the first person you turn to. You know there's always someone you can turn to if you have questions. We also have university guidance, and you get a lot of one-on-one sessions about where you want to go and what you want to study, and there are also workshops that go over how to select your activities, how to write your application essays, and all that stuff.


This year, two of our housemasters organized a leadership program for those of us who are heads or deputy heads of houses. So, they introduced workshops that were really useful for us, like, how to communicate better or how to volunteer, and understanding different leadership styles.

5. The student body is a true melting pot.

Pictured: Tiggy (Year 9, Age 13)


I feel like this is the most international hub of people we're ever going to be a part of. Plus, it's quite a close-knit community here. In my friend group, virtually no one is from the same place, but I feel like we all get on just as well.


I'm used to having my friends look different and have different nationalities. We have an International Day, where we celebrate all the different nationalities we have here, too.


The International Food Fair for International Day is the best. Generally, you just meet new people all the time. Every year we have new students who are joining us, and of course, people who have left. It's always a constant. If there's a new pupil, you can just add them on WeChat (through student WeChat groups) and know them a bit before they even come through the door.

6. Shanghai is a great gateway to seeing and experiencing other cultures.

Pictured: Sayali (Year 12, Age 16)


We have these expeditions and trips that the school organizes. One of the really memorable ones for me was the Borneo trip. We explored the rainforests, had some games and cultural activities, tasted the local food. And we stayed with some locals, which was a nice experience, to see their daily lives.

We also went on an adventure trip in Beijing. That's part of the Duke of Edinburgh program, which is optional. For six months, we participate in service, activity and creativity. We focus on one activity, one creative thing, and one service outside of school. Part of that is adventure, so we went hiking in Beijing.


The expeditions are usually an enjoyable journey. They are a very welcome break for everyone and an opportunity for you to see things that you might otherwise not have.


Shanghai offers a very vibrant life outside of school. There are so many restaurants and places to visit here.


In Shanghai, you can always make friends outside of school. I do fencing outside of school, so I have some friends from there. We like to walk around the Xuhui District — there are so many pretty buildings there. We always go to a different place every time; there are just so many places to see.


When talk turns to education, we don't hear often enough from those who are still living the experience. Students have plenty to say on the subject, and our time with these Wellington pupils gave us solid insight into the ways a school system can create greater engagement in the learning process. For more information on the school these students attend, you can visit Wellington College's Education Directory listing here.


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