When Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS) first opened in 1995, Dan Johnson, then seven years old, was one of three of the school’s first students. Now 25, Johnson has a master’s degree in pharmacology from the University of Bristol located in the UK. Johnson currently works in the pharmaceutical industry as a marketing consultant for a joint venture between the company he worked for in the UK and a Chinese advertizing company, and has been able to keep in touch with many of his former classmates. I had the privilege of interviewing this YCIS pioneer. In the interview below, Johnson shares his experiences as one of the earliest YCIS students.
What do you remember about YCIS back when you attended?
I was the first student at the school, I think I was about 7 years old. There were only 3 people in the school that first year spread from kindergarten to the start of secondary school. All my classes were one-on-one. PE was a challenge I seem to remember… The thing I remember most is the amazing way the school grew. The following year there were over 150 children, and by the time I left the school was almost unrecognizable – much bigger areas for sport, school trips to Shanghai and kids of every nationality. It seemed as if every year they were opening new buildings and bringing in new ultra modern equipment.
Have you visited the school recently? If so, what do you think of the change?
No, unfortunately not. I will try to make it over sometime in the new year (so long as I’m invited).
What makes YCIS special?
The combination of Western and Chinese education. The reason I was offered the job I have now was due to the fact I can still speak Chinese (granted, not as well as when I was 12). When I was at school in Beijing, no other international school offered the same level of language combined with a truly diverse, international environment. Also from what I remember, the school was extremely flexible in how it dealt with individuals – and we all got a lot of individual attention from staff.
After you left YCIS, where did you go? How did YCIS help prepare you for that place?
We left for New Zealand for a couple of years, before heading back to the UK where I took GCSEs and A-levels. I think the diversity of nationalities and cultures at Yew Chung meant I became very adaptable to every new environment I was put in. Also, I had a solid academic foundation from Yew Chung, so I never struggled in class.
What do you do now? How did YCIS play a role in shaping your life?
Now I work in a consulting firm that deals specifically with the pharmaceutical industry. I remember science classes at Yew Chung quite vividly, so I feel that led the direction towards me choosing to do a science degree and go into this industry. The reason that I am back in China now is because I always wanted to come back after attending Yew Chung, and the language skills I was taught. I think speaking Chinese was a huge differentiator when it came to an extremely competitive job market for graduates in 2009. I had no problems landing the exact job that I wanted.
If you were given the opportunity to be a teenager again and participate in the IB and IGCSE programs, would you? Do you think it would give you a better shot at university and work?
Certainly! The IB was on offer at the secondary school I went to in the UK, and everyone who did it ended up in top tier universities and well respected jobs. I opted to do A-levels since I was fairly sure of the subjects I wanted to excel at. I think doing the IB opens many more doors than other degrees due to the international nature of it. It creates many opportunities for universities all over the world, as opposed to just the UK which was the restraint of A-levels. I can’t speak much to the IGCSE, but I am sure it’s similar
What are your favorite memories from attending YCIS?
One specific memory was burying time capsules that were meant to be dug up 10 years later. I think we buried them in 1997, and we put photos of the school at the time, a cassette tape (I think it had the backstreet boys and the spice girls on it) and various other things that were popular at the time. Always wondered if they actually did get dug up, or if they are still lying there three feet under the playground?
Also, the weeklong field trip we all took to Shanghai at the end of the school year, it was great fun. It was the first long field trip the school ever did so there was a great deal of excitement, combined with a lot of fear from the teachers. Staying in hotels with friends- it was great fun! Making kites and flying them on Tiananmen Square- that sticks out as well.
Which teacher from what subject taught you something that you still remember to this day? What did they teach you?
I remember my teacher in my very first year, Mr. O’Connor. All of our classes were pretty much one on one. To this day I still remember his cries of “Get organized!” when I had yet again failed to remember my stationary for DT class and we subsequently had to do extra math. I think about that often; I see his point now – organization skills are useful!
Sydney Hoskin, year 12, is the student correspondent for YCIS Beijing.Oddly enough, Sydney is more commonly referred to as "Squid." She’s been in Beijing for about three years now, though she also lived here for six months when she was really little, so maybe it counts as three and a half years. She’s 16 years old and loves to read, write, act, listen to music, and hang out with her friends.
The beijingkids student correspondent program gives high school students with an interest in writing and journalism a resource for guidance, feedback, and real-life training.If you are a student interested in becoming a beijingkids student correspondent, or you know a student who is, please contact email@example.com.
Photos courtesy of Dan Johnson