Recognizing that students at school need the right kind of role models, vice principal Jacob Pawlik and his “bilingual” department aim to steer children toward international-mindedness, without sacrificing their identity.
In 2013, Jacob Pawlik, originally from Poland, joined the team at Hanlin School in Wanjiang, Dongguan. At the time he was managing the English teachers, while also teaching students himself. Fast forward to 2017, Jacob stepped into his role as Vice Principal of Hanlin’s International Department, having settled in effortlessly.
Having visited the school previously, my memories were reignited by the very same vibe about the place. The bright, open space in the international department emanates warmth and encouragement, and after all, a boarding school should offer this kind of environment to its students. Jacob and I sat down to discuss his role and his experiences, when he surprised me by asking if I had been to a blind tasting restaurant before. Unfortunately, I have not, but it was interesting to find out that he recently had an experience in Japan, where he placed his trust in a guide who ironically was blind, and who gave him that sensory experience. Fascinatingly, Jacob has traveled and worked in many countries across the globe, and he speaks several languages too. His modesty doesn’t hide the fact that he is a knowledgeable and open-minded character, evident from the way he speaks about culture and diversity.
Also a bit of a philanthropist, Jacob has engaged in charity and educational project management campaigns around the globe prior to coming to Dongguan, one of which was a university project in Portugal, working in public primary schools regarding international education. This was perhaps the crux of where Jacob’s aspirations lay, and what helped with leading onto later becoming a school vice principal.
Jacob speaks of the department as a “bilingual department” rather than the typical “international department.” He explained that students experience the ideal balance of Chinese and Western aspects, with a curriculum that is split, to reflect the consideration that learning Mandarin totally in depth at a young age is just as important as learning English as a second language. Due to the school ethos, the department’s philosophy and the IB PYP principles, students are taught with personal development in mind. Students are encouraged to be inquisitive, open-minded, reflective and to be curious about the world, rather than being faced with cold hard facts. I’m absolutely certain that personal development is also a key focus of Jacob’s. He spoke about the importance of having opportunities to grow, including his own: “My favorite thing about this job is that every day is different, with lots of challenges and room to grow,” he added, “I just ended up in China; I am so glad to have this opportunity and that’s why I’ve ended up staying longer than expected!” Similarly, Jacob explains that he would like to give more opportunities to the teachers at the school, as he knows to take care of the teachers is to have loyal and committed staff, who can help to create and maintain a home from home, for the students in it.
“Internationally-minded” was a term that was mentioned a few times. And I think this is the essence of what Jacob and the school department are trying to produce. Considering the wholeness of the student and their development, Jacob emphasized the transdisciplinary teachings that Hanlin’s department executes, in order to cultivate children who can develop into worldly-wise beings, with transferrable skills that will stand them in good stead for their future. Additionally, assessments are in the form of final exams and mid-term exams, and presentations which students give to teachers, parents and other school grades.
Things are implemented faster, and therefore made effective much faster too.
As we all know, things are forever-changing in China, changes take place much quicker than most places, and people often don’t like that or can’t adapt to it so easily. However, as Jacob put it so clearly, “There are actually huge advantages. It means that things are implemented faster, and therefore made effective much faster too. It’s the same with your career here, a career in China can advance so much faster than elsewhere if you work hard.”
Again, promoting international-mindedness, International Day is a well-known festivity at Hanlin, with students, teachers, families and local media uniting for a special day that celebrates diversity. This year’s spring event will no doubt be an unforgettable day. Jacob mentioned, “We were recently talking about a school ‘National Day,’ with the idea of maintaining Chinese identity and celebrating the rich culture of China.” What a charming thought.
Due to demand, the school is considering a new location for its international department. If the final decision is to relocate, the department will remain close to the main part of the school, according to Jacob.