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    Preparing for Pollution: A New Family’s Take on Beijing


    20 Jan, 2017

    10 : 00

    • With the beginning of the second semester at YCIS Beijing, we’ve welcomed a number of newly arrived expat families into the fold. For new families arriving in the dead of Beijing’s winter, it can be a daunting transition. We sat down with one of our new parents, Emma O’Brien, to learn more about her initial impressions of YCIS Beijing and the city itself.

      Please introduce yourself.

      My name is Emma O’Brien. I’m from Australia and my husband is from New Zealand. We have two kids at YCIS Beijing: Olive, who is in Year 3 in Mr. Sweeney and Hu Laoshi’s class, and August, who is in K4 with Ms. Tilley and Ren Laoshi.

      I’ve been in China for about three weeks but my children started at YCIS Beijing at the beginning of December.

      Is this your first time in China?                    

      We’ve visited before but this is our first time living in China.

      What are your initial impressions of the city?

      I came during summertime for the first time and I was really impressed! We used to live in Moscow and I’ve found quite a few similarities between the two cities, but in many ways China is a lot easier. In service situations, for example, the people seem a lot friendlier and more open. The food is delicious, and people are usually really helpful wherever we go.

      What has been the biggest challenge for you and your kids so far?

      The most challenging aspect so far is probably the inconvenience of having to wear pollution masks and having to institute that regime on the kids. We just came out of the southern-hemisphere winter, so having to go back to another season of indoor life is also a challenge for us, especially the children who have been used to a lot of physical freedom in New Zealand.

      To cope with these challenges, we’ve enrolled at a gym so the kids can swim regularly. We’ve also got quite a big living area at home and have recently purchased a little gym mat from IKEA which they love. On clear days we take advantage of the playground in our complex, as well as get the kids out on their scooters.

      Besides friends and family, what do you miss most about home?

      I’d say the fresh air, the trees, and the physical freedom we all enjoyed living in a small and less intense community. You can walk everywhere in Wellington, so I’d walk to work and the kids would walk to school every day. Although you crave certain foods, you really can get most everything you miss here. You also have to be very vigilant when crossing the street because the traffic laws don’t seem to be observed as strictly. It’s especially stressful when you’re trying to get two kids across a busy road!

      How is your family adapting to the Beijing pollution?

      We were actually prepared for the smog. We knew we were moving here at the worst possible time, so we mentally braced for it.

      Thankfully, we have a lot of support from the embassy (where David works). They provide us with air filters and we’ve had our windows taped. The confinement is probably the biggest challenge for young children. The kids have adapted to wearing their masks just fine; we do our best to role model it while also making sure they’re aware of the health hazards if they don’t wear the masks.

      At the same time, it’s important not to become too paranoid; we’ve recently bought a Laser Egg which is a great tool to keep track of pollution levels inside, but I try not to fixate on the levels on it too much! It’s ultimately just one unique challenge of living here and an additional aspect of life that you have to be mindful of.

      How did you learn about YCIS Beijing?

      One of the documents the New Zealand embassy gives you when you’ve officially been posted here in Beijing is a list of schools, and YCIS Beijing was on that list. We were interested in a school with a bilingual curriculum, so YCIS Beijing was high on our list. We liked the school’s immersive Chinese program and the fact that it was centrally located. Most importantly, we talked with other embassy people that we trusted to get their take on why they chose YCIS Beijing. So given all that, we chose this school before even visiting Beijing!

      While I was concerned initially that the school may be too focused on academics and not foster agency and self-sufficiency among the kids, once we arrived for our first visit in August, Sara in Admissions was able to put us at ease. We’ve loved our experience so far!

      Please list at least two reasons why you chose YCIS Beijing for your children.

      The bilingual curriculum and the central location were the two main reasons. The positive word-o- mouth was essential too. For my younger child in ECE, the questions I asked focused on free play and how much of the kids’ day was scheduled with teacher-led activities. It’s very important to me as a parent that the kids have freedom to do things on their own and to act independently and with confidence when it comes to their own learning.

      By the end of your time here, what kind of growth or lessons do you hope for your family to have experienced?

      I hope that we develop a deeper understanding of Chinese people and Chinese culture - a comfort with it rather than this feeling of “the other.” Proficiency with the local language is also a really important goal.