Global mindset, Asian values and close-knit support: How students at this international school are being equipped for the future

By offering students a home away from home, Hwa Chong International School encourages strong bonds of friendship while bringing together the best of Asian culture and a dynamic curriculum

(Clockwise, from left) Bobby Lo Shih Hsuan, Limthanarkhom Chongton, Song Minwoo, Andy Wai Yan Paing and Andrew Gunawan became best friends over the past six years spent studying and living together at Hwa Chong International School. PHOTO: HWA CHONG INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL

Andrew Gunawan, Andy Wai Yan Paing, Limthanarkhom Chongton, Bobby Lo Shih Hsuan, and Song Minwoo are not your typical group of best friends. Hailing from five different countries, the boys initially faced difficulties gelling together.

“Back then, we weren’t really close because of the language barrier,” says 19-year-old Chongton (better known as Chong), who is Thai.

But these six years spent studying, living and playing together at Hwa Chong International School (HCIS), have formed an almost-unbreakable bond between these friends, even as they look ahead to the next chapter of their journey after graduation. 

Andy, a 19-year-old from Myanmar, recalls being shy and introverted when he first came to Singapore.

But living in the boarding school helped. It was there that he first met Chong. 

“Despite being cold with my replies, Chong always approached me in the common room,” Andy smiles as he remembers his first encounters with Chong. 

Friendships like theirs are formed organically among foreign and local students who stay at HCIS Residence. HCIS is the only local international school in Singapore with a boarding school on campus. 

“Being away from home in a foreign land, the HCIS Residence provides these students with a safe haven where they can feel at home in a comfortable community that inspires personal growth and nurtures international mindedness,” says Ms Linda Lee, principal of HCIS. 

Strong network of care and support

Beyond the friendships that happen from the close contact between students daily, HCIS also offers a strong network of support. One example is the Residence Mentors who live on campus and work round-the-clock to care for the students.

The bright and cosy common room at HCIS Residence, where students can study and hang out with each other. PHOTO: HWA CHONG INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL

One evening, Andy suffered a cut while playing basketball. His Residence Mentor immediately rushed to his aid and took him to the hospital.

“He even stayed with me through the night because my aunty, who was my guardian at that time, stayed quite far away,” says Andy.

Another support structure HCIS has in place is a buddy system, where new students are paired up with someone in the same form and subject classes, to give them greater assurance as they adapt to the new school environment. 

Lastly, teachers play a pivotal role in nurturing the potential of students. The school’s smaller class sizes foster a closer guidance of students and a stronger rapport with them.

Indonesian student Andrew, 19, says his grades have improved due to his teachers' encouragement: “I was really bad with my studies. But my teachers have helped me a lot.” 

The regular STAR and BEACON lessons, which are small-group subject coaching classes organised by teachers, help students feel safe asking questions and give more attention to those who may be struggling academically.

Developing grit, unlocking potential

With a teacher-student ratio of 1:10, students are given more time and attention. This close contact enables teachers to be in a place where they can gently nudge students out of their comfort zone. 

The close guidance from Andrew’s teacher led him to eventually take up Business Management as an IB subject, allowing him to further his passion for entrepreneurship. He says: “I hope to eventually study in Australia, and hopefully open a retail store there.” 

Beyond academic pursuits, character development is also closely knitted into the school’s curriculum. The school motto 自强不息 or zi qiang bu xi (translated as the ‘continual pursuit of excellence’) is embodied in the design of programmes such as the overseas Resilience Camp for Year 1 and 2 students.

Students develop grit and resilience when they participate in programmes such as the Resilience Camp, which takes place overseas. PHOTO: HWA CHONG INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL

Through these programmes, the school aims to develop grit in its students so that they would continue efforts to strive in school, work and life, despite seemingly insurmountable challenges. 

Minwoo laughs when he remembers his own journey learning Chinese: “I came to Singapore with zero knowledge of Chinese, and in the first week, the teacher asked me to write a Chinese essay! I would call my mum every day to tell her that I couldn’t do it.” 

But with constant encouragement from teachers and friends, who regularly spoke to him in Mandarin, Minwoo is fluent in the language today. 

It’s one of Minwoo’s proudest, and grittiest, achievements in HCIS. 

In nurturing the character of its students, HCIS offers every student the opportunity to be a student leader. For instance, under the Student Leadership Programme, students can take part in one of four different councils – Student Council, Boarding Council, House Council and Class Council – where they are given opportunities to step up.

Aspiring musician Andy performing on stage at the school’s Chinese New Year celebrations earlier this year. PHOTO: HWA CHONG INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL

Building a firm character foundation gives students the confidence to step out of their comfort zone and unlock their hidden potential. 

At HCIS, students are regularly provided opportunities, such as Innofest and Cultural Night, to showcase their talents. It was at the 2018 Cultural Night where Andy discovered his talent for singing and songwriting. 

Today, he writes his own songs in English and Chinese. He even shot his first music video with Chong, a budding vlogger, who has developed a penchant for video-editing when he got the chance to edit videos for the school. 

Such a holistic, well-rounded education that focuses on academic, character and leadership development has nurtured globally-competitive students, whilst remaining anchored in Asian values.

Fostering global perspectives, rooted in Asian values 

Taiwanese student Bobby recalls why his parents sent him to Singapore: “Even though they wanted me to learn English, they also wanted me to remain rooted to my Chinese culture.” 

At HCIS, the Asian values of family and community are strongly emphasised, despite its position as an international school that caters to students from all over the world. 

Such values encourage students to pursue their dreams, within healthy boundaries. 

Students participating in lo hei tossing, a local Chinese New Year tradition. PHOTO: HWA CHONG INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL

Andrew is deeply grateful for his community of friends at HCIS, who helped him to overcome his academic struggles. “Andy, who was good in his studies, patiently taught me, even though it took up a lot of his time,” he says. 

This focus on Asian values is matched with an emphasis on a global outlook. 

In addition to English, all students have to take up a second language such as Mandarin, Spanish, Korean or Japanese.

“In today’s globalised context, cultural literacy is pertinent,” says Ms Lee. “Our focus on Asian cultures and values, in addition to the dynamic international curriculum, ensures that HCIS learners and graduates are culturally competent and cosmopolitan in character to add value to the world.”

The school’s bicultural and bilingual environment provides a rich platform to enhance students' understanding of the globalised world.

For example, Bobby only learned about lohei, a Chinese New Year tradition, in Singapore. Learning about its cultural significance gave him a deeper appreciation for and a more nuanced understanding of Chinese culture, beyond what he was used to in Taiwan. 

Such a multi-cultural environment enables students to be more accepting and open-minded towards different opinions. An early exposure to international perspectives and diverse viewpoints prepares students for the complexities of the real world. 

This edge is demonstrated in how many HCIS students go on to be accepted in universities outside of Singapore, with more than 65 per cent eventually studying abroad. 

Creating bonds that will last 

While many students move abroad to study, the bonds forged in HCIS last beyond the years spent there.

(From left) Song Minwoo, Andrew Gunawan, Andy Wai Yan Paing, Limthanarkhom Chongton and Bobby Lo Shih Hsuan snap a photo for the memories during their graduation ceremony in October this year. PHOTO: HWA CHONG INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL

During their graduation ceremony, Chong created a vlog highlighting the memories of his time in HCIS. 

In the final segment, a teary Chong says, “Thank you for being my sisters, my brothers, and my family over the past six years. I would be nowhere without you. I will definitely miss you.”

These five best friends may be parting ways for now. 

But they leave with more than what they came with – having nurtured a deeper measure of their potential, and a family that goes beyond borders. 

Embark your child on a journey with HCIS to be an independent, innovative and international-minded learner of tomorrow. Visit to find out more.

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