Local International School Experience

ACSI(ndependent) or ACSI(nternational)? If you tell your Uber driver “ACSI”, chances are you’ll get sent to the wrong school. SJI and SJII are a little easier to differentiate, but if you don’t articulate well enough, you’ll also get sent to the wrong one.

Despite holding a Singaporean passport, I’ve spent my entire primary and secondary education bouncing around international schools across the globe. In my 12 years of schooling, I’ve attended three international schools in Shanghai and two in Singapore.

Being a Singaporean with no local school experience, I’ve heard countless misconceptions about international schools, ranging from the understandable to the downright ridiculous.

Disclaimer: These are generalisations, and may not apply to everyone.

1. We’re not the epitome of crazy rich Asians


Granted, our school fees are give or take around $30,000 a year, which is about 3 times the amount for local university. But local international schools tend to give scholarships to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it. There are many kids whose parents prioritise education above all else, who scrimp and save in order for their kids to attend a local international school because they think it’ll be a more wholesome experience.

That being said, I’ve definitely met some incredibly rich people. Here’s an actual conversation I’ve overheard in school:

“Hey, you should learn how to dive!”
“Nah, if I wanted to go under the sea, I’d rent a submarine.”

-Crickets chirping-

2. Our school environment isn’t an American high-school sitcom


“Wah, international school ah? You must have a lot of cute Ang Mohs right! *insert heart eyes emoji*”

Sorry SPGs. Although this may be true for some international schools, this doesn’t exactly apply to local international schools. The student body is quite heterogeneous, as we have a more diverse population. However, this usually comes in the form of Indonesian or Chinese scholars. In addition to hip hop, we have Chinese fan dancing. We’ve got an orchestra, but we’ve also got a Gamelan group that’s larger than the orchestra. You get the drift.

3. We’re not as snobbish as you think

Continuing from my first point—because we’re all loaded and go to an international school, we must feel entitled and better than everyone else, right? Well, there’ll always be the Regina Georges with the latest designer products, but people are generally grounded and friendly. Our schooling system may be different, but that doesn’t make us superior and we know it. We just have a more holistic and less academically-driven environment.

4. We don’t party like there’s no tomorrow


When people learn which school I’m from, more often than not they comment on the supposed “party culture” of my school. I’ve heard tons of stories of crazy booze-filled and hormone-driven parties, only to burst their bubble—we don’t actually have endless parties. Sure, some grades may cause more havoc than others, but for most of us, the idea of fun is Netflix, without the “chill”.

To be fair, regardless of which system you school in, there’ll always be a party group who’ll wreak havoc #alldayallnight. It’s not an international school thing, it’s a universal teenager thing.

5. Our accents aren’t actually Ang Moh 


If I had a dollar for every time someone commented on my accent, I’d be able to pay for my entire university education. Jokes aside, it’s true that being in an international environment alters your accent. Personally, my accent is the product of years in an American international school environment. For a large portion of my schoolmates, they end up with an accent that’s not distinctly American or British. It’s not a Singaporean accent either, so people tend to assume we just have “Ang Moh accents” and leave it at that.

In reality, since quite a lot of my cohort came from the local system, a lot of people came and left school with their Singaporean accents intact.

6. We do have exams

People assume that because we don’t have PSLE or O Levels, we don’t have any exams. That couldn’t be further from the truth: we have IGCSE’s, and exams at least once a year at every grade. Local international schools aren’t all play no work—there’s a reason we still get pretty stellar results for IB.

7. We do have strict dress codes


In my school, we could get away with highlights in our hair and the occasional double piercing, but trust me when I say we still have a dress code. Skirts have to brush our knees and aren’t allowed to be rolled up, and the top button of our formal wear must be buttoned up. We’re not allowed more than one piercing on each ear, and God forbid if we have a piercing anywhere besides our ears.

That being said, what are rules for if they’re not going to be broken, right?

Singapore School System

At the end of the day, it’s not the system you’ve been in that defines you, but rather what you’ve gained from it. Regardless of the schools you’ve attended—be it neighbourhood  schools, convent schools or international schools—one thing’s for sure, the memories and friends you’ve made are ones that Facebook memories cannot duplicate.