International Education

Excelling outside the classroom

International schools offer a variety of extracurricular activities, and particularly sports, for all interests By Rebecca Carden

QUOTES: “When I found out we were leaving England, I was concerned that living in Asia would not give me the opportunity to play soccer at a high standard. Now I play soccer several times a week and regularly participate in tournaments.”

Every child of school age participates in some form of extracurricular activity, although the reasons for doing so vary considerably. Some students will take part in a number of clubs for pure enjoyment, while others may be looking to widen their talent pool with future college applications in mind. Most schools will have star athletes that may be so dedicated to a particular sport that they do not have the time to participate in other activities. But with colleges increasingly seeking well-rounded students, it is important that students continue to join clubs and participate in activities like their counterparts in the West.


Unconventional opportunities

Many international schools are striving to provide a greater variety of extracurricular activities than the traditional sports, music and arts. The Beijing World Youth Academy offers BWYMA TV club which gives students the opportunity to experience life as a news anchor, while the International School of Beijing has offered its middle school students after-school activities such as Chinese folk dancing, mountain biking and ‘Easy French Cuisine’. Some schools will try to provide unusual extracurricular classes for the enjoyment of students. Secondary school students at Beijing BISS International School can teach and learn Japanese, and Harrow International School Beijing offers Scottish country dancing.

As this list demonstrates, attending an international school does not necessarily put students at a disadvantage in terms of extracurricular activities. Emily Teng, an 8th grader at Beijing World Youth Academy, is not only involved in the school’s Forensics Club, Environment Club and BWYA TV club, but is also a member of the school’s orchestra in which she plays the cello.


Fit to compete

There are also a number of expatriate-operated professional sports coaching companies, including MultiSport Shanghai and Sport for Life, which operates in Shanghai and Suzhou. Mike Tsesmelis, Managing Director of Sport for Life, recruits foreign coaches to teach sports to about 1600 expatriate children. Offering soccer, dance, swimming, basketball, tennis, gymnastics and cricket, the company coaches young toddlers to teenagers and provides them with the experience necessary to play competitively. Mike believes that the majority of students are able to compete to a similar level as their native countries, but “the elite children will generally not be pushed as much since there is always a higher level back home.”

Although the opportunities to play sport at a competitive level in China may lag behind those of a student’s home country, city life inevitably presents students with a wide choice of sporting activities. There are basketball and soccer leagues and students interested in gymnastics, swimming, tennis and dance can take part in competitions. Others may have the chance to perform at events held outside of the school, including The China Expat Show.

Students can also take part in sports outside of school hours at international school-organized regional tournaments. The Canadian International School of Beijing (CISB) recently held a basketball exchange for under-14 girls’ basketball teams. Students were able to play against other schools including the International School of Beijing and Tianjin International School. As part of the International Schools Athletic Conference (ISAC), an association that operates a three-season calendar with sporting competitions organized between 13 international schools in Beijing and Tianjin, students at CISB can play competitively in sports including volleyball, soccer, table tennis and swimming by attending frequently organized tournaments.


Unexpected benefits

Understandably, students moving to China for the first time may have some concerns regarding the opportunities to play sports, but these are largely unfounded. One student from the UK who lives in Shanghai stated, “When I found out we were leaving England, I was concerned that living in Asia would not give me the opportunity to play soccer at a high standard. Now I play soccer several times a week and regularly participate in tournaments.”

The locations of such activities are not just limited to campuses, for most major residential compounds feature swimming pools and multi-use areas, while dedicated sports grounds such as Shanghai’s Century Park football centre can also be utilized. Private tutors can offer language lessons at home, and activities such as ballet classes may be held in local community centers.

While students may only focus on one sport each season in their home countries, such as soccer in the winter and cricket in the summer, China provides the opportunity for sports to be played simultaneously, providing even more variety for students wishing to heighten their extracurricular experiences. By providing children with a wide variety of activities and sports at a young age, students are then likely to later specialize in the activities they enjoy.