The other evening I was going for a walk along the waterfront close to our house, enjoying the breeze and the lights of Kowloon twinkling off the surface of the water. As usual I was listening to some music, and on that occasion it was a favourite album; ‘The Race for Space’ by Public Service Broadcasting. This incredible album retells the story of the American and Soviet space race of the 1960’s and 70’s using voice recordings taken from the archive at the British Film Institute. In the title track, the one that was coming through my headphones on that walk, John F Kennedy’s famous speech of 1961 is featured, and there has long been a line that has jumped out at me:
The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.
For my family and I right now, these words have particular meaning.
July 2nd was the day that a world of new opportunities, and new uncertainties began unfolding ahead of us. After a lengthy and uncomfortable night spent on the floor of Changi airport in Singapore - a long story involving children, surfboards, baggage allowances and overly prescriptive regulations - we stepped off the plane in Hong Kong. The 7 suitcases and 3 day packs we had with us, along with those surfboards, were all that we had as we set off into the roller coaster of building new lives here.
We are now 8 weeks into this journey and we have been gifted with an incredibly warm welcome into the THS community. From the very first morning of walking into The Grove to be met by beautiful welcoming smiles, to reconnecting with old friends from Bali, to being offered the warmest of good mornings and checkins by people too numerous to mention.
We are definitely aware of how people have been going out of their ways to support us and to soften our landing here. Outside of school there have been trips to most corners of Hong Kong looking for furniture that doesn’t come from IKEA and that doesn’t cost a fortune, there have been days spent comparing supermarkets for the best places to buy bread, milk, marmite and crisps, and there has been many many hours walking around malls and markets searching for sheets, towels, lunchboxes and shoes (another long story because no, we didn’t really own any shoes before).
I am not new to this game, having made international moves 6 times over the past 2 decades, and even more before that. Each one of these moves has come with its own special feelings of excitement and anticipation, as well as its own sense of grief, loss and anxiety. The grief of parting from relationships built over time, the loss of favourite places, activities and foods, the anxiety of parents disrupting the stability of a child’s world. For us right now we are definitely still in the exciting mode of experiencing everything for the first time, the honeymoon period, and while there will certainly be moments of turbulence ahead, we are loving the journey so far.
Going through this transition myself has also prompted me to reflect on all of the changes that our students have been experiencing over the past few weeks. For those who are just starting out in the THS family or who are new to Hong Kong, these transitions are obvious; adapting to the climate of Hong Kong, figuring out public transport, finding familiar breakfast cereals, getting used to a new school uniform and many more. For others however, these transitions may be much more subtle and nuanced, but everyone in our community is going through a period of adaptation. Becoming familiar with the personality of a new teacher, or moving on from a favourite teacher from last year. Getting to grips with new class dynamics and getting to know new peers. Working with a new colleague or teaching in a new grade level. Adjusting to a new routine, classroom, building or campus. Leaving the school and buying lunch yourself if you are new to the High School. Making choices of what to wear that reflects your increasing independence and the identity that you hope to create if you are new to the Middle School.
Having been lucky enough by now to have worked in a number of wonderful schools all over the world, I have come to learn that however small they might seem, it is incredibly important that we as adults do not play down these transitions and the impact that they can have on the young people in our care. What in our eyes might seem almost trivial, can be the thing that leads to a young person feeling uncertain, unsettled, unseen, or even unsafe. The beginning of the school year can be a little bit like its own ‘blast off’ moment with everything being put in place for the year ahead. As teachers and parents we so often work towards and worry about the best outcomes for our children and students, our hopes for them and where they might be heading; to go back to JFK,
“The eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and the planets beyond.”
As we head off into this new school year together, I know that I’ll be trying to take my eyes off those distant planets for just a moment, holding them in my peripheral vision to allow for the time and space to recognise, celebrate or struggle with each special moment that is headed my way. And making sure that I hold this same space for others in our community who are on their own journey of transition, their own race for space.