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DIALOGUE: Tianjin International School Becomes Even More International
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alt The life story of incoming Tianjin International School (TIS) Head Principal, Raul Harri, is as impressive as his qualifications and credentials. Born in Papua New Guinea to Finnish parents, he moved to Australia when he was twelve, graduated from an international high school in India, returned to Australia to attend university, and has spent the last thirteen years living in various places throughout China. Therefore, difficult to imagine how TIS could possibly have found a more international candidate for the position, Harri’s intriguing and multi-cultural upbringing is supported by sound qualifications, and over two decades experience in the education industry. With his appointment also enhancing TIS’s reputation of being able to attract outstanding candidates to the school, Business Tianjin was delighted to meet the latest  administrator and hear his thoughts.

You have lived in many countries. Which one did you like the most?

That’s difficult because I am what some people call a ‘third culture kid’. This is where, firstly, you have the passport country. In my case, I have two (Australia and Finland). Secondly, you have the country you currently live in. The third culture is a blend of these two. Also, different countries have had different meanings, and represented different phases of my life. If you really pushed me on it, I’d say Papua New Guinea, as I had an ideal childhood there, and the nature and beaches were amazing. But, all the countries I have been to have been amazing, and I wouldn’t have spent so much time in China if it didn’t have such a special place in my heart.

You moved around a lot throughout your life. Are there any disadvantages of such a lifestyle?

One disadvantage can be a loss of patriotism. I admire, and sometimes envy, my American and Chinese friends who truly love, and have a special bond with their country. However, I personally believe the advantages of my lifestyle far outweigh the disadvantages.

What attracted you to TIS?

The biggest attraction is that TIS is truly looking to be international. One reason I have been hired, is to use my international background to make TIS into a place where everybody feels welcome regardless of culture, belief systems, etc. We have the potential to achieve wonderful things here, and I also want the expat community to feel welcome at TIS, not just to study but to do other things.

What are your aims for TIS and how do you aim to achieve them?alt

One of my aims is to use my experience as a drama director and English teacher to continue to build on TIS’s reputation for fine arts. In many ways, fine arts are an international language, and I want to celebrate them. Another aim is academic excellence. Of course this isn’t revolutionary; we are after all a school so academic excellence has always been a priority at TIS. However, there’s always room for improving the curriculum. Yes, we want to prepare students for university, regardless of where they choose to go, and we’ll certainly do this, but we also need to do more than simply prepare students for college. I believe an excellent education prepares students for what they do after college, for life. International school students are the cream of the crop. They are from educated families, and have advantages most other kids do not. They are going to be leaders in industry, and I feel we have a unique opportunity to give them a well rounded education, and help them experience and prepare for life. In order to achieve this, I want to foster a climate of creativity and innovation, together with academic excellence. I want TIS to be a school which  enables students to reach their potential, and the best way to do this is to have teachers who have a passion for teaching, life, and truth.

Are there any unique difficulties that come with teaching or working at an international school?alt

There can be cultural boundaries to overcome. Those who are from a mono-cultural background, and who are teaching internationally for the first time can often be tempted to compare things such as the food, the rules, and the curriculum to those back home and think the grass is greener there. This is human nature. So, our challenge is to try and lower these cultural walls so that, rather than seeing the negative aspects of the culture they are in, they can see and enjoy the good aspects.

You yourself studied at an International School. Is this an advantage as a Headmaster?

It means I can empathise with the struggles and joys of being an expat. I know it can be hard for kids who are away from their passport country, and when I was younger, I truly valued the teachers who cared for me, took an interest in me, and who understood what I was going through. They made a big difference. Hopefully, as Principal of TIS, I can help promote a culture of empathy where kids know they have people who understand what they are going through, and are willing to journey with them through the challenges of life. 

altWhat are the biggest advantages of studying at an international school?

International school students learn to see life and the world from unique perspectives. They make friends from all over the world, and therefore learn empathy for different views and cultures. It broadens their horizons and opens doors to the world. I have three children who have been educated by this system, and my eldest has just graduated. I see them entering the world with the confidence to face new and unexpected things, and this is something that is hard to achieve without such an experience. Nowadays, we live in a world where borders and walls are less important than they once were, and international school prepares students for this global world. 

Why should expat students enroll in TIS rather than other international schools in Tianjin?

Tianjin has a growing expat population and is big enough for many international schools to coexist. I look forward to collaborating with other international schools in Tianjin. I do believe that TIS has a unique program and culture to offer, and I invite parents to come and see why.

TIS have recently moved. What are your thoughts on the new facilities?

altI was amazed. They are purpose built, international standard facilities. They are an excellent asset for the school, and in addition to benefiting our students, teachers, and staff, I also hope they can be of service to the Tianjin community.

Any closing thoughts?

I believe that parents are responsible, and also ultimately accountable, for how they educate their children. The best kind of school is a partnership between parents, teachers, and the administration. When this partnership is healthy, then students are in the best possible place to benefit from school. I encourage perspective parents to come to the school, see the facilities, and have a chat. I look forward to moving to Tianjin and working at TIS. 
About TIS: 
Tianjin International School moved to brand new facilities in Hexi District in January 2012.  The new campus is 2.5 times the size of the old campus and features 75 classrooms, 5 science laboratories, 2 libraries, a full performing arts center, auditorium, gymnasium, separate playgrounds for the kindergarten and elementary students, and much more!  The facility is purposefully designed to serve international students to help them reach their full potential.

By Chris Wilson
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