High school, or what I affectionately call ‘the dark days,’ is usually more than a handful for the typical teen. My experience is no exception, though a little different. I attended three different high schools between 2012 and 2016, two of which are right here in Busan — Busan International Foreign School (BIFS) and Busan Foreign School (BFS).
Like many kids from expat families, I suddenly found myself attending a new international school in Busan — not once, but twice — and I wish someone had been around to give me a heads up about what school life would be like.
If you’re looking to attend, or send your kids to either school, here are five things to know.
Prior to attending either school, my education largely consisted of American public schools and a brief period in Singapore, so I was startled by how small the class sizes were at both BIFS and BFS — anywhere between 10 to 20 kids in a class.
I believe this is an advantage, as the intimate class atmosphere made it easier to befriend other students (a life-saver for new kids like me) and it also allowed teachers to pay more individual attention to students, limiting laptop abuse and sharpening in-class focus.
Uniforms vs free dress
Here comes some age-old discourse: yes or no to school uniforms?
BIFS allows free dress year-round, with the exception of gym uniforms for P.E. In contrast, BFS enforces a strict uniform policy every day of the week save for casual Friday.
If you’re looking to prepare yourself (or a child) for an American university and/or career, BFS may be the right choice for you. They follow a typical American high school curriculum and prepare high school students for AP exams in May.
In contrast, BIFS is geared towards UK-style education as an IB World School. While ninth and tenth graders study hard for the IGCSEs, upperclassmen concentrate on the highly intensive IB programs (equivalent to UK A-levels).
A student’s educational background and preference can help determine which school would be the perfect fit.
As the clock approached noon, all that ever ran through my mind was food, food, food.
BIFS has a revolving international menu daily, with two mains, hot vegetables and dessert. Growing kids need plenty to eat, especially in a school with as strong a sports culture as BIFS, so bonus points for their sandwich and salad bar.
BFS also has two main menu options a day — Korean and Western. The food comes fresh and warm off the grill, and there’s a little cafe inside the cafeteria where you can buy an afternoon snack. In contrast to BIFS though, students who pay for the school lunch option can only choose one menu option a day.
The best part of being at either school is the international aspect. When I was younger, I used to hate the “expat” stuck to my dad’s official work title and all of the moving around that came with it. In hindsight, being able to study abroad and at both schools here in Busan has been a huge cultural blessing.
One difference between BIFS and BFS was the cultural aspect. During 9th grade and 10th at BIFS, my group of friends ranged from European, American and Southeast Asian, enabling me the opportunity to gain a wider cultural perspective.
However, during 11th grade at BFS, there was a higher ratio of Korean to foreign kids. You could hear much more Hanguk-mal filling the halls in between classes, making it easy to immerse myself into the language and achieve fluency.
It’s not something easy to put into words, but my time at both schools helped me become more open-minded and appreciative of local and foreign cultures.
Regardless of their differences and whichever you decide to choose, both Busan International Foreign School and Busan Foreign School will give you an unforgettable, enriching experience.