MINA DUNSTAN reflects on her first few months as the new Head of School at Australian International School Hong Kong (AISHK), and shares what she’s excited about for 2023 and the future.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’ve been in Hong Kong for 17 years, working across ESF schools in Sha Tin, Quarry Bay and Kennedy Town. I came to Hong Kong to teach – and with a six-month-old baby in a pouch. Prior to that, I was in principal roles in Australia and I worked for the education department in Queensland.
What appealed about this role at the Australian International School Hong Kong?
I’ve admired the school from afar and heard such wonderful things about the community, and I wanted to be part of it. And being Australian myself, I identify with the values and the ethos of the school.
What have you been busy with in your initial period as Head of AISHK?
Trying to get to know people when they’re wearing a mask is one of my greatest challenges at the moment! Connecting is definitely a key for me – spending time in and around the students to know them all by name, and engaging in conversation with parents about what we’re doing at the school and what they value about that.
Another key aspect of the role has been connecting with many associations, including those of the Support Australia Group, which includes the Australian Chamber of Commerce, the consular staff and others in the Australian diaspora in Hong Kong.
I’ve been getting my 10,000 steps by about midday most days!
What have you enjoyed or been surprised by in that time?
I’ve had a really warm welcome from the fantastic staff and students, the parents who have opened their arms to welcome me, and the wider Australian community who’ve offered their support. Coming out of COVID, I think we all realise that the strength of our community lies within the relationships and the trust and respect we have for each other; these things help us to keep moving forward.
The other thing I’ve enjoyed is the lamingtons! They’re one of my favourite foods, and the cafeteria staff have perfected them over the years!
What’s new or notable at AISHK for 2023?
Definitely alumni development – we really want to tap into the wonderful stories of the people that are here in HK as well as around the world. We want to hear from them and use their talent to influence and shape our students.
Community engagement is another huge one; it’s all about connected community for me, after we’ve been without it for so long. For instance, this coming Friday evening we have our Welcome Festival, which is like a big barbecue celebration on the field with bands, music and more, for the entire community. Each start of the school year for the past three years has been disrupted, so we’re really looking forward to actively promoting the school with our families in 2023. The message is: “Everything is back – and your child will enjoy all the benefits of a full, rich, vibrant school year.”
We are 28 this year, so we’re starting to plan our 30th anniversary celebrations. Celebrating 30 years of good-quality, inspiring education in Hong Kong is something we want to build up to. We will engage with alumni about that, and harvest their stories – one that comes to mind is an epidemiologist who recently advised the World Health Organisation. And the staff will be a big part of these celebrations, as without them we wouldn’t have the stories to tell. We want to recognise the importance of staff, their professionalism and the constant value-adding to students they provide.
Finally, for me, the year will be about building and forging really strong relationships with the governance group and board. The board are very supportive of the school and very aspirational in terms of us celebrating the strength we already have and looking for opportunities to take things forward.
What advice would you give to international families looking to move to HK and considering school options?
Look broadly! Look at the breadth of provision in a school and ask if it is developing the whole child. Talk to other parents or colleagues you know who might be coming in and find out about their experiences. I think sometimes word of mouth and these discussions with other families is really helpful. Another aspect of the “due diligence” families should do when finding a school is to visit the campus. Ask to speak with the head of school and find out about his or her belief systems around leadership. Likewise, if it’s a visit to a school like ours, meet the head of secondary and the head of primary.
On a tour, you’ll get a sense from the key senior staff what the school and its community is really committed to; and when you walk into the school you’ll know if there’s warmth and a positive tone, and if the cultural values speak to you as a family. If you feel those things and that’s what you’re seeking for your child, you’ll know you’re making a really good choice. But if you walk into an environment where you don’t feel that, you may need to do more research.
We were at an Australia Day function in January, meeting new families at the consulate, and I was asking them how the first few days at the school were, and how they had found the transition – because if children are happy, then learning will follow. The good feedback for us was the sense of a seamless transition experienced by so many of the families, and a feeling of ease about their move or change.
What do you like to do in Hong Kong in your downtime?
I devote time to my family – my husband and two children. So, exploring country parks and beaches, the amazing food and the other things that Hong Kong gives us. And trying to teach our puppy how to walk on the lead! Devoting time to family is really precious for me, and it’s where I get my energy from to do what I need to do. When you have children of your own, you see school quite differently, and I think that helps me calibrate at times. What would I expect if I were a parent in this situation? That’s something I have reflected on; it’s an important part of understanding where people are coming from. Everyone always wants the best for their child.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.