As a student at the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB), I often hear students and teachers making references to The International School of Beijing (ISB). I think people from both ISB and WAB subconsciously compare themselves, and in turn their academics programs, sports programs, and facilities to those of the other school. There is some sense of rivalry between the two schools, especially in terms of sports. But how much of this gossip and talk of the two schools is actually true? As a former ISB student who attended ISB for many years and a current WAB student with a sister who attends ISB, I think I can speak quite objectively about the reality of both schools.
When I first informed people about my decision to transfer from ISB to WAB, some people disagreed with my choice to the point that they wrote on my Facebook wall, saying that they strongly believed that I should revoke my secured spot at WAB. Their reactions really aggravated me because they likely had some misconceptions about WAB. Some perceive WAB as a “party school.” If WAB is deemed a “party school,” then it would only be fair to consider all schools “party schools.” Perhaps if you compared the ratio of people who party in ISB to people who party to WAB, there will be a difference, but there are students who enjoy partying at every single school.
There is a misconception that WAB is less academically rigorous. WAB is a more liberal school that emphasizes educating the “whole child” and helps students grow in all aspects, not just their academic/athletic/artistic abilities. WAB’s mission statement is “Connect, Inspire, Make a difference,” and WAB makes an effort to create a close, connected community that encourages students to engage in the community to try to make a difference. It is evident that it works because of the amazing college acceptances in recent years.
The school’s attitude is reflected in its architecture; the entire structure and design of the school creates a welcoming and intimate atmosphere. Everything is very open; WAB doesn’t have a cafeteria, it just has a big open area with tables and couches where everyone hangs out and is free to mix. The library doesn’t have any doors, it’s not in a room; it’s basically just many bookshelves and tables/chairs in an open area.
At WAB, you can spontaneously break out into song with your friends and be admired for your talent instead of being looked at weirdly. Many students call WAB their ‘second home’ because they feel completely comfortable in the school and the students and teachers are like family. WAB embraces people as they are. WAB is liberal and arts-based, encouraging creative thinking in all subjects. For example, in Information and Communication Techonology (ICT), one of the projects was create a remix (audio, image, video, or text) and the students had the freedom of doing whatever they wanted.
WAB has a strong academic curriculum just like ISB, but WAB really puts that extra effort into its arts programs. The students themselves are also very artistic; almost every single one of my friends does at least one type of art. Even though the art rooms are based in a building separate from the high school, the art teachers still painstakingly carried at least 70 art pieces across campus to the high school, and set up and hung the art for display. They even had a gallery opening night for all this art.
Most people perceive ISB as a very academically-driven school that is also very strong in sports, which is true. One of the most apparent strengths of ISB is its undeniably spectacular facilities. Recently, the school finished building two domes with tennis courts, a track, a basketball court and soccer pitch. The domes also have an air filtration system, which will greatly benefit the students since we live in a city where having a pollution index of 100 would be considered a good day.
Regarding academics, students most commonly receive A’s, which shows their devotion to education. ISB is a competitive school, which drives students to be more engaged in activities and put in extra effort. A lot of students thrive off the competition and pressure, and it actually improves their performance. Being surrounded by many conscientious students really gave me an extra push in my academic work.
A common misconception about ISB is that it’s not a fun place. Actually, ISB hosts many fun, unique and interesting events each year. For example, for Movember. lots of male students and teachers shave their hair and mustaches/beards to raise funds to promote men’s health. The Spring Fair every May is another huge successful event that a lot of people from the whole Beijing community attend.
One of the specialties of ISB is that it offers a personalized education for each student. It offers so many opportunities for students to focus on their own personal interests. WAB does as well, but since ISB is a bigger school it offers more options than WAB in some aspects. ISB has also been around for a much longer time, and has had more years to develop, expand and improve its system and curriculum.
Students at both ISB and WAB claim that their school is the better one, which of course is true in a sense because the school they are is the more suitable for them personally. It depends on the student’s personality, interests, and self-motivation.
I have found the school that is my “home away from home” at WAB. I liked attending ISB and I am grateful for my experiences there because they have shaped me to be who I am, but I believe my personal interests will flourish at WAB. In the end, everyone will have a different “home away from home.”
Talia Jin is a student at WAB.
Photo courtesy of Gerald Klein of Nations Park Home Plate via Wikimedia Commons