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Departing Dulwich headmaster recalls five years in Suzhou

Jul 4, 2012

NICK Magnus, first and "founding" headmaster of Dulwich College Suzhou, calls the campus his third child after his seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son.

"I have been in love with Suzhou since I arrived five and a half years ago to build up this campus," Magnus recalls. "It's definitely not a metropolis as enthralling as Shanghai. It's quiet and peaceful. It's an ideal place to bring up kids."

He says his favorite area of the city is the tranquil bamboo forest at the rear of Tiger Hill, which as a "mysterious beauty of history."

Magnus has witnessed the college arise from farmland to become an international community of more than 800 students from 38 countries and regions and more than 200 staff. The area has been dramatically transformed from a remote suburb to an international neighborhood.

Construction is underway for a campus expansion that will include dormitory and other facilities of a boarding school that will open in 2013, as Dulwich expands to meet growing needs. The boarding school will attract students from other cities such as Wuxi and Changzhou in Jiangsu Province.

The blueprint calls for gym, indoor swimming pool, five labs, two theaters, a cafe and other facilities.

Dulwich Suzhou attracts international students from pre-nursery (age 2) to Year 13 (age 18). The school, which offers the International Baccalaureate Diploma, is a major draw for expats settling in Suzhou with their families.

What's special about the campus and college that are new in Suzhou but which have a 400-year-history in the UK?

"It's a sense of belonging," Magnus says.

"A stereotypical international school always has great facilities, plenty of resources and high tuition fees, but a school is by no means a place to show off. One needs a feeling of belonging," he says.

The headmaster has an open-door policy and all students and staff are welcome to visit and express their ideas.

"Opinions are valued. No one is told not to do what they want. I want to open my door and listen to them," Magnus says.

Internationalized education

Most parents are expats working in the Suzhou Industrial Park and they play a big role in the campus community. The parents' community, called Friends of Dulwich (FOD), help newcomers settle in, fill needs, set up hobby groups and raise money for various local charities.

Their credo: We're not just parents greeting each other at the school bus stop. Let's get involved and help each other.

Dulwich is located near the campus of Suzhou High School, one of the city's top schools, and it opens its facilities to its local friends.

"We share many facilities and visit each other on a regular basis. We have set up a consistent schedule for students of the two sides to communicate with each other," Magnus says.

As an advocate of internationalized education, Magnus knows both about Western educational systems and the Chinese system.

"For me, every side has its strength and weakness. The top merit is always to be open-minded.

"For parents who are always entangled with how to bring up an outstanding kid, Western or Chinese, my advice would be to cherish every minute spent with them. I know many parents are busy but remember the kids are always the No. 1 job. Enjoy your children, speak to them and listen to them, because you can never buy back time spent with them."

Like many expats, Magnus has a waterfront home on Jinji Lake in a upscale neighborhood.

"It's one of the best places to live in Suzhou. Everything is within five minutes' reach. My family is happy with what we are offered, the view, the food, all the facilities around."

Despite all the benefits, Magnus and his family are preparing to leave Suzhou since the headmaster will be setting up the Singapore campus of Dulwich College, opening in new chapter in their lives.

"We feel sorry to leave Suzhou. It's such a friendly, welcoming place for foreign people to live. But I'm also excited to meet the challenge. Meanwhile, the kids are happy because they are looking forward to a place of no more winters!"



About the Column

Suzhou Face

This series focuses on individuals who have lived in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province for a while and have a tale that’s worth telling. Age, gender, nationality and race are all unimportant in comparison with what adventures the subject has been up to, the experiences they can recount.

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