I'm a permanent HK resident now. This means that I can live and work here without needing a visa (yey), I can vote (double yey) and I have been here 8 whole years (shit, that went fast). It doesn't mean I can get a school place though!
I've always been one for taking on a bit too much. I have the attention span of a goldfish and, most of the time, a huge amount of energy. I may also be just a tiny bit competitive and don't really think that it's worth doing something unless you do it well (or enjoy it, but often they are one and the same). However, earlier this year I realised that I was struggling a bit and had really taken on a bit too much. Aside from the full time job and being a Mum, I also had training for two competitive sports, sunday school teaching, voluntary work as a mentor for a reforming teenage drug addict, rowing club secretary and, after agreeing to organise a dinner for my former head of college, the alumni convenor for my college (although other than one dinner I've not actually done much yet). So, for the first time in my life, I have given something up.
I am no longer rowing club secretary. Someone else has taken on that task and after 6 years (out of the 8 we have been here) that I have been on the club committee I am nothing, nil, of no importance at all.
What will I do with all my spare time now? I was thinking of Chinese classes...
Do you ever have a moment when it hits you, I mean really hits you, that you are a parent and your child is the most lovely and most important thing in your life? It's that moment when you really understand what unconditional love is all about - with the beauty and the pain that goes along with it - and how incredibly special it is.
I need to get Eve into a school by the tim she turns five. I started this process just after she turned 3. Two years would be ample to have a good look at schools, make a decision about which ones to apply for and get her a place. I mean, two years is two years isn't it. I even laughingly told a friend of mine with a newborn, when she asked me whether I had put Eve's name down for a place yet, that she was mad and should enjoy her maternity leave. Oh how I laughed. Oh how I don't now. There are not enough places for expat children in HK to all go to an international school. Due to a bit of nationalistic fervour around the time of the handover back to China, almost all fully government funded schools decided to teach on "mother tongue". A great idea to get exam results up but there is now a whole generation who have been educated in a language that almost nobody outside HK speaks (Cantonese - at least educating in Mandarin would have made more sense) and a whole generation of Chinese parents who apply for the already scarce places at the English-speaking international schools because they want their children to be fluent in English.
If I was any other nationality except British then I would get priority for the international school of my country. French, German, Swiss, Australian - even the Norwegians have their own school. However the descriptively named "British International School" is open to anyone who has enough money and who applies early enough. Bugger whether or not you are British.
Most schools in HK work on a first-come-first-served basis, and I've had admissions officers laugh at me when I tell them Eve is 3 as if I am asking to send an eighteen year old to kindergarten. Apparently anything later than embryonic and I may as well not bother to apply. So much for me thinking I would select the schools, it is more of a case of getting Eve into anywhere now.
The priority for getting into these schools is as follows: 1 - national of the relevant country (bugger that for me then) 2 - have a hugely over priced corporate debenture. This is something companies buy to secure places for their overseas employees. Neither the Boy nor I are eligable for one. 3 - buy your own hugely overpriced corporate debenture. Um, I don't have a spare million hong kong dollars kicking around for that one. And even if we did the waitlist for most of the debentures is 2 years anyway so I'm too late 4 - when you applied for the school i.e. the earlier the better
The more eagle eyed will have realised that nowhere does the ability of the child have anything to do with this. It's mainly about money. Welcome to Hong Kong.
I have applied for the Canadian (lovely campus and nearby), a newish school with rave reviews and small class sizes (but we would have to move to get closer to them), and the German Swiss school on the basis that I work for a Swiss bank and I might get some sort of priority over others. You have to pay to even apply to the schools (a couple of hundred UK pounds each) so it's not a decision to be taken lightly. That doesn't even guarantee you an interview either, it's just a fee for them to read your application.
A friend told me, to calm me down, that you rarely hear of children who don't find a school place anywhere and have to leave HK. True, but there's always a first time.