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On Hong Kong Schools, Interviews and future Olympians


If you ask any family with young children in Hong Kong about the most stressful thing in this city, you will get the same answer almost 100% of the times. It is not the astronomical house prices. It is not living in a city with high level of pollution. It is not seeing your friends come and go every three years. It is, without a doubt, getting a school for your children.

With very limited international school places, competition to get a spot in school is fierce. Many of the schools are above  10 times oversubscribed. Children, as young as age 2, are put through an interview process which they have to attend by themselves without mommy or daddy’s company.

We were very lucky we got Javi in a very good school  last year. It is now Gabi’s turn, and yesterday he had his first interview, at age 2 years and 10 months.

After going through the whole process with Javi, we are now parents with some “child-interview experience”. I knew he was not going to have problems with language fluency, numbers, or letters. He is good with colors, shapes and sizes. But there were a couple of hurdles. The first one is stickers: he must be the only child in the world who hates stickers. The second one is his initial shyness. He is one of those children who will freeze in a new environment. But, after a minute, he warms up and he is very sociable.

So, we arrived at the school for the interview with plenty of time. We knew we were going to have to deal with the “sticker issue” first. There were about 50 children, all age 2 to 4 waiting their turn. As soon as you arrive, children get a sticker with their name, in case they are lost. So, here was my approach: “Gaby, you know? children with stickers get a lollypop after playing in the classroom with many toys. Do you want a sticker?”. Answer “NO!”. No matter how much I, or the ladies organizing the interviews, insisted, he refused to get the sticker on his T-shirt. So, there they go, 50 children, 49 of then with their name on the front of the T-shirt, and one, with a sticker on the back we managed to stick without him noticing!

Now comes the time to attend the interview. One parent is allowed to accompany the child to the door of the classroom and then has to leave. So, there my Lovely Husband goes with Gabi, while I was trying to have a peek through a glass door. Gaby freezes at the door, looks at daddy and says “Daddy, I want to go to Ms Tea’s school”. Ms Tea is his nursery teacher. He turns around and speeds at a pace that would qualify him for the next Junior Olympics. He comes out of the corridor, into the waiting area and runs through the whole waiting room. Suddenly, 100 pairs of eyes of the other waiting parents are on me and my husband clearly saying to us “You are done! No chance to get in!”

My husband manages to catch him and gets him back into the classroom. Lucky for us, this second time, he spots from the door a box filled with animals. He goes straight to it. The interviewer approaches him and says: can you see any lions? he says: yes! I can see three, you see?” one, two, three” while getting the lions out of the box. The interviewer says. “But this is a bear, isn’t it?” while pointing to a lion. “No, it is a Lion, and Lion starts with letter L….Rooooaaaarrrr.”

My husband had to leave them. But we knew he would be fine now.

I still think that, as long as they do not mind children who hate stickers and are potential Olympians, we might (but only might) still have a chance at this school. We will have to wait  for the letter to arrive in three months’ time…

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