The decision for the Pongsudhirak family to place their daughter, Petra, in Shrewsbury International School Bangkok, Riverside at Year 7 has paid dividends. The school, which is celebrating 86% A*to A at A-Level has a long-standing reputation for academic success. After seven years in Senior School, Petra is now preparing for her most significant challenge yet - taking up a place at Oxford University to study Chemistry (one of five Shrewsbury Students heading to either Oxford or Cambridge from the class of 2021).
Describing Shrewsbury’s approach as “holistic with academic rigour”, Dr Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Professor and Director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, talks about Petra’s journey - from his perspective.
After seven years at Shrewsbury, what are your reflections on the school, and how has it opened doors for Petra?
It began as a huge transition to take her out of a top Thai school. My wife and I are both academics, and I have studied abroad myself. We both felt that a bicultural, bilingual background would hold her in good stead for the future. We confirmed this instinct when in her Thai school in Year 5, Petra’s homework was getting longer with more quantity rather than quality. My initial experiences and communication with former Principal Mr Stephen Holroyd were immensely positive, and it became clear that the school paid attention to the students as individuals, not as cohorts or connections. Initially, it was an adventure, but slowly she reached her true potential. Shrewsbury has stretched her and maximised potential - with her improved performance, year on year, being the key indicator. It was a fortuitous transition and immensely fulfilling for our family.
Why are so many Shrewsbury graduating students successful in terms of exam results and university applications?
There are a couple of fundamental reasons that come to mind. The faculty is the most important. The Shrewsbury Principal’s travel around the UK and search for the best teachers, and their recruitment is exceptional. Also, the curriculum is challenging and pushes students to reach their potential (1 in 9 head to the World’s Top 20 Universities). You can be sure that I would notice if things were not going well - but my experience has been quite the opposite. The school encourages engagement with teachers and understands the need for parents to understand the requirements at each year level. The facilities are consistently getting better as well. Unfortunately, Petra will just miss the opening of the new Senior School, but I know it will be amazing.
Do you think the extracurricular activities at Shrewsbury help build character and extend students beyond their ability?
Initially, Petra was following in my footsteps by playing Tennis. However, she soon discovered volleyball and has never looked back. Working hard on the court helped her apply the same effort to her school work. She made the Varsity squad in Year 10, and by Year 11, she was the captain. I think endeavour in sport or arts outside the curriculum is hugely important to provide a balance. Petra had a sisterhood in her volleyball team, and she was able to bring that positive energy, collaborative mindset and leadership skills into the classroom. Everyone can find their own fit at Shrewsbury. The Duke of Edinburgh International Award (DoEIA) is also vital to personal development. For Petra, the DoEIA was a completely foreign undertaking as many people in the city do not participate in outdoor, immersive opportunities, but it has proven immeasurably crucial to her character in the long term.
What was your experience with the university application process?
Along with the school’s Higher Education (HE) Team, we were grateful to have the help of Shrewsbury alumni to give us inside information about how Petra should write her personal statement. I think the school is unique in this way. They have a proven record in successfully getting students to Oxford, Cambridge and the prestigious US Ivy League universities. Therefore, Shrewsbury can draw on this experience and alumni to have continued success. Petra is already excited to speak about her experiences to the class of 2022 - this is what makes the community so connected.
How does it feel to say goodbye to your daughter?
Well, these kids at university have holidays often, and some come back three times a year! Staying in touch mitigates the distance, the longing and the yearning. This will be the first time she will have been away for longer than a month. I used to drive her to Shrewsbury every day, and we would talk about what is going on in our lives, so I will miss that connection. However, this is the next step in her life, and we are embracing both it and Petra’s success.