Reflections from afar – thriving examples of the Abingdon ethos
By Graeme May, Deputy Head (Academic)

I’ve just returned from nearly three weeks overseas where I was, amongst other things, interviewing boys in China, Hong Kong and Thailand who are thinking about joining Abingdon over the next couple of years. The trip has many highlights, which I may well write about more fully elsewhere, but two encounters with OAs stand out for me in particular at the moment.

In Shenzhen, southern China, Jane Jorgensen and I held a reception for current parents and former pupils (as we did everywhere we went). Often at these receptions we talk to new parents whose sons are in their first weeks at Abingdon and who are, naturally, still experiencing the culture shock of moving 6000 miles away from home and having to get on with life at Abingdon at the same speed as everyone else. The experience must initially be pretty bewildering I think, at whatever age you arrive. These new parents are anxious to hear that things are going well and we talk a lot about how our induction works and how the boys adapt quickly and are the stronger for the experience.

On this particular occasion we were joined by Peter Zeng (OA 2011), whom I last remember meeting at our 2015 Shanghai reception. He left Abingdon to read Engineering at Oxford and then went into management consultancy with Roland Berger. The news he brought to us is that, six months ago, he completely changed jobs, moved from Shanghai to Shenzhen (a thousand miles apart) and now works for the computer gaming industry: quite a change! He expressed excitement about the change of job and city but that was in equal measure with his uncertainty and sense of unsettlement about his significant move. However, what he was certain of, and passed on to the parents at the reception, was that his experience of moving to Abingdon’s Sixth Form, especially at a time when very few from mainland China joined the school, had provided him with just the adaptability, resourcefulness and resilience skills that were now paying dividends in coping with his new role. And, we know, these are just the sorts of attributes that employers the world over are seeking in their employees above and beyond the stellar academic qualifications they bring with them. Added to this, Peter is also a good example of what we now sense about the world of work, namely that you are likely to have several ‘careers’ these days, and therefore nurturing and maintaining a broad set of employability skills will be crucial: something we see as being central to Abingdon’s emphasis on The Other Half where such things as leadership, teamwork, adaptability, resilience and creative thinking are particularly developed.

The second OA I want to talk about is Ethan Lo (OA 2017) who helped out with the Hong Kong element of the trip, which is always the busiest – over our time there we interviewed something in the region of 120 boys. He is just starting his second year at Cambridge reading Law but spared the time over one of his final weekends at home this summer to come and sit with prospective families and to talk about Abingdon with them. I am sure that having him there, along with the very supportive mothers of current Abingdonians, is invaluable in communicating to families what Abingdon is about. Ethan himself, in the way he conducted himself and handled the very many questions thrown at him, made me, and all my colleagues who were there, immensely proud of a young man whom Abingdon has had some part in shaping over the past few years. His instinct in wanting to give up his time in the service of a school he has now left is another key thing that I admire about what Abingdon nurtures in its boys – that instinct to give back. And I don’t just mean giving back to Abingdon, I mean the much wider sense I see in our boys that the privilege they have enjoyed in their lives so far carries with it a responsibility to give back to whatever community they are in and to give selflessly without expectation of reward. And I am sure that the number of business cards and offers to talk about future employment that Ethan received during our Monday evening reception are undoubtedly connected with with the open, friendly, mature and intelligent way he comes across. If Abingdon can claim some little part in the forming of those characteristics, then we can feel a strong sense of a job well done.

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