Studying at an international school: narration of experiences

Is life at an international school a bed of roses compared to mainstream Singapore schools? Well, according to some attendees past and present who shared generously on Reddit Singapore, it isn't all just fun and games. The academic curricula (typically comprising the IGCSEs and IB Diploma) is suitably rigorous, this being complemented by a healthy advocacy for personal development in sports and arts. There is a general consensus that most teaching staff encountered are affable and approachable, and one benefits much from his/her social interactions with foreign peers hailing from culturally diverse backgrounds:

By kerochanscheck:

"I went to international schools for 11-12 years but I am in a local junior college now so I'll try to compare my current school to those.

I'll probably focus on the last one I attended since its an IB school so I can fairly compare it to life in a JC. Around a third of the school were PRCs who could barely speak English. we also had a lot of white people from many countries and a few more races.

IB workload is insane. Expect tons of projects and group work assignments that you have to complete. lots of class presentations too. a 4000 word essay that you have to do a ton of research for - it's like a solo PW except I guess there's no oral presentation or evaluation of material. also you actually have to do the solution you come up with unlike project work (PW) where everyone and their grandma decides to do an app and eventually just fakes screenshots and mockups using photoshop. The exams are tough but I think the 'A' levels are tougher because IB doesn't really involve the typical Ten-year series (TYS) that you must religiously use for mugging sessions in order to do well. (as in, they don't constantly force you to grind through the same questions again and again because there aren't many to practice to begin with. I reckon the lack of the TYS would make the actual exams harder to prepare for)

Just throwing in a quick example of a few ideas our teachers suggested to my friend and I about PW. we got advice from our IT teachers and one of them suggested that my friend contact one of his old friends who runs a school in Kazakhstan to code a website for his school. And he would have to analyze his needs for the website, come up with a way to code it, etc for the project. I can't remember if this was for the IA or the EE, but we have to do both for IB anyway. He also suggested that I work together with vendors at Sim Lim Square to set up displays outside their stores/in the windows running slideshows which showcase the products they sell. Apparently there exists specialized software that you can use to display these slideshows (not Powerpoint, then again I don't really know because I never ended up implementing the solution) so I would have to volunteer to set up a PC and install this stuff for them.

My teachers were incredibly nice and fun to listen to. They don't really throw tantrums all the time like local JC teachers and are a lot more calm and collected. If they had an issue with you they will probably talk to you in private after class instead of blowing up at you during lesson time. My Math teacher was this old English lady who was really snarky and sarcastic, yet her classes were always fun. On the other hand our Physics teacher was kinda crazy and would yell a lot. I didn't offer physics but we would occasionally hear him through the walls and us Biology kids would pray for our friends in his class. He was a cool guy outside class though. Our IT teachers were geeks and their classes were really fun since they were very passionate about IT and knew a lot about the latest trends and stuff.

Facilities were really nice. we had a "common room" in the library which was a big old classroom that they emptied out. It had a ton of bean bags, tables, chairs and even a a sofa. I remember bringing a few extra tables in and having LAN parties during lunch with my friends. everyone was forced to buy a Macbook so we didn't have too many games to choose from but luckily Call of Duty (COD) 4 ran on Mac so we would play multiplayer mode on that. All of our classrooms were air conditioned, a lot of them had random beanbags we could use and some had carpets. it was really comfy. WiFi was tremendously slow during lunch break though. Eventually gaming during lunchtime started to become a pretty big issue since it was happening everywhere so the school decided to open up this big classroom on the top floor during lunch for people to play games in, so that the rest of the school wouldn't have to deal with us hogging tables to play COD or Minecraft which were the most popular titles amongst the younger students. However they also had a teacher there to supervise us (although he literally did nothing to be honest) so we decided to use the common room since we could openly swear at each other for camping/dropshotting/spawnkilling/using shotguns etc.

CCA participation was really important. My main CCA back there was Dungeons and Dragons (a teacher was the GM) but we could also choose to help out other CCAs for CAS hours (like VIA but we need to clock 120 hours to pass IB). I helped out within the Minecraft CCA alongside my friend which by the way was being supervised by one of my teachers. It actually caters to younger kids from p4 to secondary 2 but we were allowed to join as helpers. They all played on a single server and we had admin characters so we could fly around and spawn items etc. Our job was basically to teleport lost kids back to their friends but we also did fun stuff like changing our movement speed to fly around while dropping sacs of invisible ink on the kids to turn them invisible. In JC however I just kinda slacked off as far as CCAs were concerned and did nothing much; back in the international school you can see I was far more involved and passionate because things were way more fun.

The students were generally nice but it still depends on how you behave. There was this one dude who was a little weird and had a thick accent-as a consequence he got made fun of sometimes. Not directly, but others would act snarky with regards to him and I'm not sure if he even realised they were making fun of him. Then again truth be told he was a real creep so I don't know. Most of the students there were very accommodating and friendly towards other people (even if you have a weird accent or whatever)- as long as you acted nice and not like a jerk. Got to know lots of very unique people with many different hobbies and back stories since they all come from different countries. whereas in JC everyone just talks about mugging for the 'A' Levels, playing DOTA /Maple at LAN cafés and watching anime/ Korean dramas.

Classes were a lot slower in pace and thus more fun. for example we had to read a book for our English class and we once spent a double period lying on bean bags on the floor watching a movie adaptation of that book on the projector. We also spent a few IT classes watching documentary on AI.Things feels a lot less rushed than JC.

Oh, you may want to know substance abuse (some of which are illegal to my knowledge) is a lot more common there however the folks are really chill about it.

I recently visited the campus again because I wanted to take pictures of their video editing room (which was a lot more impressive when I used to study there to be honest, however it got downsized recently but they still had a greenscreen and cameras etc) and apparently they have a 3D printing room now. It has a ton of 3D printers and the teacher showing me around showed me some pokeballs he made and a few other models done up by the students. The art rooms are very cool but I didn't go there often. Except this one time when the school decided to get the students to make tiny clay models of themselves (the clay that you use for pottery, not play-doh) so we all had to spend to some time there . They later put them all up for display in the middle of some room which was quite cool.

The community is really nice, and the events they host are awesome. My favourite has got to be this one time when we hosted a film festival for students from other international schools across Singapore; I participated in that and was rewarded with $100 lol. It was really fun watching everyone's films and the production value was pretty high. JC events feel really half-assed in comparison - I think it would be really cool if we had some kind of Inter-JC film competition but since everyone is too busy mugging for 'A' Levels, I doubt that would ever happen."

By casualcatthrow:

"I’m currently studying in one of the 3 ‘local’ international schools, namely – SJI Intl; ACS Intl: and HCIS. I came from a neighbourhood primary and secondary school so my response would only cover the IB student life. These schools are considered more ‘local’ by virtue that more Singaporeans are found in these schools than other international schools and because they are members of the well-established institutions. The reason why I attended an international school despite being a Singaporean was solely to pursue the IB diploma. I was initially aiming to enter the independent schools but fell short of their academic requirements,(the preliminary examinations gave me a glimmer of hope by granting me a streak of A1s, however I didn’t study much for the actual papers cause I got too cocky) so here I am. I am very thankful for my parents who granted me the opportunity to pursue the diploma programme despite coming only from a upper middle income family.

Academic Curriculum:

In my school, the year 1-4s take the IGSE examinations (which are supposedly easier than the 'O' Levels - never sat for them so I wouldn’t want to speculate here). Upper school students refers to those taking the 2 year IB programme. Classes: 8am – 4pm (It gets shortened to around 3pm when you’re in year 2, depending on how many free periods you have in your time-table)

Staff: Mostly friendly, although I’ve witnessed some staying for as short as 3 months before leaving the school. For one, my Physics teacher was replaced 3 times within the first year. I’m guessing it's less taboo to quit a job at a private school compared to a government one. The teachers are a mix of ex-MOE JC teachers and foreign teachers. Not every staff is a Caucasian (in fact, I have only seen seen 2 thus far on campus; the rest are of Chinese or Indian ethnicity).

Classes are held in blocks of 1 hour, with each day covering at least 5 of your 6 chosen subjects. In year 2 you may get more free periods depending on what subjects you took. Most lessons are held in a classroom (yes, they are all fully air-conditioned), unlike the lecture-tutorial style of instruction you encounter in local JCs. Perhaps only mass lectures take place during Theory of Knowledge slots because it’s a mandatory subject to be studied by all. There’s participating in an overseas trip to a neighbouring country like Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos in Year 1 too; CAS stuff as it is called - stands for Creativity, Activity and Service. Basically CIP and CCA loaded with more self-initiative.

Social Life

Alright, let’s talk another big part of school life : friends. I’m probably least qualified to speak on this subject because I only have a close circle whom I stick to for meals, sharing subject notes etc. The school is largely split into 2 distinct groups, the PRC students, the Singaporean students while the other nationalities constitute a small minority. The PRC students live in the school's boarding facilities and are super tight when it comes to social situations. Most of them hardly talk to the Singaporean kids. I’m guessing because of cultural and language barriers, perhaps? Yea, so being in an international school does not automatically make your social circle more international, it really boils down to how much you want to get out of your comfort zone.

Probably one benefit has been that my conversational Mandarin has improved immensely since I enrolled.

The local students, as you expect, belong to higher income brackets. I can probably count only 3 people in year 1 and 2 who live in HDB flats (myself included). If you’ve ever read Crazy Rich Asians, it’s about 70% accurate. It might be higher if you get real friendly with them and get to see the full potency of their father’s net worth hahahaha. They’re mostly snobs with no proper sense of actual realities outside of school. Some of them are so knee-deep in their self-centred fantasies that you are left wondering if you were watching in a teenage sit-com. That being said, there are some nice locals around who are both humble and approachable.


Technically speaking my school has 4 canteens. But most of the international school students go to only 2 of them. One of them is cheaper and better tasting but is further away from the school. I always eat at the ‘cheap and good canteen’ as the Cai Png and Nasi Briyani there is too good. Prices at the expensive canteen can range anywhere from 4 to 7 dollars for a plate. I spend 3 dollars on average for a super filling meal at the other canteen. There’s also a café that sells overpriced snacks, cakes and other tidbits. Not a fan of that either.


If you wanna join a CCAs you gotta pay a fee. Anywhere between $300 to $500 is a good estimate. But that’s probably a drop in the ocean for some of the kids who enrol here. I don’t have a CCA because IB has this CAS component which is sorta like a CCA in itself already. There’s all sorts of shit like Indoor Skydiving at Sentosa’s iFly place. I think the annual fee costs around 1K?? Yea but everyone’s ballin’.


I’m currently studying in the new building, it’s pretty cool. Great classrooms and lots of studying corners. The PE equipment is in pretty bad shape though, the ‘mini-track’ has bumps and cracks which does all sort of magic for your knees when you run on it; the students usually bring their own equipment if they wanna play a certain sport that day etc. Oh we ‘have’ a swimming pool, but we don’t use it. It’s right next to the school but apparently no one here has taken a dip in it :("

By minkums:

"Went to an international school and it was awesome.

Did the IB Diploma and the IGCSEs while I was there and those programs really helped me prepare for life in university to be honest. The IB curricula was so demanding yet still well rounded (not just solely focused on academics) that it taught me really good time management skills and how to function beyond scoring good grades at school. I actually even secured credit (from the IB program previously) for some classes during my first year in university such that I was permitted to attempt selected second year modules straightaway, and when people were freaking out over 5k word essays I was like meh I've done this before in high school. The exams were hard and stressful like all exams are but I didn't feel like we were ever under prepared by our teachers. I was also more aware of other cultures and cultural differences, and it really helped in the workplace etc. dealing with people of varying attitudes. My experience at an international school has really built me into a 'global citizen', I feel like I can adapt easily to change and live anywhere.

The classes were very interactive, and the teachers treated you as equals at a young age, which really fostered an environment in which people were not afraid to ask questions and learn. Sports and arts (like drama, music and visual arts) were very highly regarded and encouraged, as well as doing well in the classroom. They would also have cool things like United Nations day with heaps of cultural performances and food stalls selling an assortment of global eats.

In addition, the school I went to recognised that its students were largely from very privileged backgrounds and therefore placed an emphasis on giving back to the community, whether local or international. For example, I volunteered heavily with an organization which assists foreign domestic workers and construction workers, while friends of mine worked with organizations in Thailand or Vietnam.

Of course there was a lot of partying on the weekends, but hey that's about fully living the life of a teenager really. Bullying also happened on occasion no thanks to some kids who were assholes (rich kids behaved even worse), however these incidents get shut down by the teachers very quickly. A lot of rich stuck up people go to international schools but more than a handful of very nice, humble ones do too. I've made some lifelong friends from high school who came from across the world. The potential for networking globally is massive once you graduate."

By jksaurus11:

"I'm a Singaporean; I attended an international school here and graduated last year, and I'm now doing my National Service. As my school was and is very new compared to the older established schools such as SAS and UWC, classes were really small and the teaching was very much a hit and miss thingy. Although all of the teachers had Masters degrees, some were simply better than others. I was lucky enough that I was pretty self-motivated and had good teachers in the subjects that mattered.

Because my school wasn't quite motivated to pursue a culture of academic excellence, life there wasn't exactly hectic. That being said, I'm very outcome-oriented, so I took advantage of this laxity to boost my college applications of my own volition.

However, that isn't true of the better international schools such as UWC Dover and SAS, where it's much more intense due to the culture there. Generally speaking, how successful you are is really up to you. I would say that there is an inherent advantage to attending a (good) international school if you're very motivated as opposed to a local school, even ones like RI and ACSI, as you're extremely well-supported in terms of college counselling and extra-curricular opportunities.

Bullying in school often isn't overt and typically occurs in the form of social ostracizing. Generally people are quite amicable as they're from all over and being an outright dick isn't sustainable when you move from one country to another, thus having to make new friends every 4 years. Kids are generally very privileged in their mindsets as they live in a bubble, so they can seem very snobbish.

I did the IB, so I had to endure a sizeable workload, but it was still very manageable. I feel that the workload for IB (unless you're taking a ridiculous course-load) is not as bad as most people make it out to be. Most of the stress comes from poor time management and procrastination (which I am particularly guilty of), and taking classes you're completely unprepared for (e.g. attempting Math HL when your foundation is plain terrible). However, I will admit that there are times where shit hits the fan and you have to pull all nighters and skip school to complete assignments especially when the school schedules stuff poorly and all your deadlines are packed together. Then again, if I were a prospective IB student I would take my own advice with a pinch of salt as my final IB grades ended up being purely a moot point in the grand scheme of things. At the end of the day, if you want to go to a good college, you'll have to put in a lot of effort both academic and extra-curricular wise, regardless the system you're in, be it the IB, APs, or A-levels.

The greatest benefit of attending an international school is the social experiences you gain. I'm not necessarily talking about the drinking and partying etc. which was undeniably very fun by the way, but rather getting to meet and know people from all over the world. Moreover, since people move around so much it's very common to have mutual friends with people you meet for the first time. I made the acquaintance of a guy from Hong Kong and he actually knew people whom I was already friends with through my time abroad. The world really does become a smaller place, and you end up graduating with an amazing global network with people all over the world in different schools and fields. I can honestly say going to international school has truly shaped my worldview and who I am today.

Financially, I feel that the kids from the truly international international schools are nowhere near as wealthy as the ones from "local" international schools like SJII, ACS International or HCIS, which ironically subverts the stereotypical (colloquially known as Ang-Mo Dua Ki) AMDK narrative that seems to be perpetuated here. The average annual expatriate compensation package here is around 300k or so, and while it is a lot compared to the median household income here, it becomes a lot smaller when you have to rent a house, pay (for high school aged kids at least) 50k a year per child to study in an international school, buy a nice car so as to maintain a certain lifestyle and image.

Obviously there are plenty of rich foreigners as well, but I would say the majority aren't necessarily that well off (varies depending on the school obviously). There's a reason why college counsellors in international schools often have to account for finances whereas the Singaporeans who can afford to spend 50k a year per child for an international school have no qualms spending double that amount for university."

Carefully harvested and edited for clarity by the Czar (Site Founder)

Dated 25 September 2017


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