DUNCAN AND BERNADETTE FITZGERALD CHOSE AISG BECAUSE THEY LIKED THE PEOPLE AND THE WELCOME IT GAVE THEIR FAMILY. AS THEY PREPARE TO HEAD TO A NEW CHALLENGE IN GERMANY, THEY DISCUSS HOW LIFE CHANGED FOR THEM AND THEIR TWO CHILDREN, ROBBIE AND EDIE, OVER THE PAST FIVE YEARS.
“AISG opened the door to the world for our family in many ways,” says Duncan. After moving from Australia in 2014 with their two young children, Edie and Robbie, the family quickly adapted to their new, broader horizons – especially Robbie. “People call him the King of Er Sha because everybody knows him,” says Bernadette. “He’s so at home here, he tells everyone he meets that he is Chinese. Of course, they do a double take because he’s blonde!”
Duncan and Bernadette attribute the kids’ positivity to the close-knit community at AISG. “The village helped raise them,” says Bernadette. “Our colleagues here are our social set, and they are also our friends and confidants,” adds Duncan. “It’s our community, and saying goodbye to people will be the toughest thing. I will have to try not to cry.”
It’s not hard to see why the family have made so many connections. Between them the couple have had five different roles over the last five years; Bernadette teaching grades 1 and 2 and Librarian, and Duncan teaching grade five and then promoted to Elementary School Assistant Principal.
“I’ve loved every bit,” says Bernadette. “The classroom is a little hub, and you get to learn together as people. The library is a big, bustling hub where I got to be with everyone in the community. I got to see the challenges and the positives of both sides of the coin – they were special things to be able to do.”
Duncan agrees. “When you’re in charge of a classroom, it’s a special position because you are in charge of those kids for a whole year. You see their ups and downs, and the relationship you build with them can be game changing. I loved getting to know them as little humans. Once I moved to AP, that job was an honor in a different way. I could be a support to so many people, not just kids but teachers and parents as well. It’s a real privilege to have that ability.”
The friendships they made here have been key to making them feel at home. “It’s great to have made friends on similar journeys to us, with kids the same age,” says Duncan. “We’ll holiday together, and some of the best family trips we have had were with other families from AISG.”
So the great news is that two other families from Guangzhou are also moving to new schools in Germany, including close friends Will and Laura Tragert. “Will and I have had kind of parallel careers, and we will both be doing the Elementary School Principal job for the fi rst time in Germany. It will be great to be able to get on the phone and talk to someone in a similar situation in the same region and get some sound advice.” The most remarkable thing is, neither family planned to make the same move – it was a surprise to both when they found out. “We’re so grateful for that, it’s absolutely amazing that we are all going to be in the same place again,” says Bernadette. “We couldn’t have planned that, it really does feel like destiny.”
Once they make the move to Germany, what are they going to miss most? “WeChat!” says Duncan. “I don’t want to go back to the Stone Age!” But, more seriously, he adds, “In Australia I was a surfer, and my motto was ‘Work to live, don’t live to work’. But that’s different here. I think the people you work with in an international school become a little bit a part of your family. So, all these people, particularly in Er Sha, they are our life, and I will be very sad to say goodbye to them.”
Bernadette nods in agreement. “We’ll miss the connections we have here,” she says. “But it’s also nice because we are taking some of Guangzhou with us.” It’s clear that AISG has been an experience neither will forget. “It’s a joy that we’ve had a chance to spend time with people and get to know them, and that’s precious,” says Duncan. “Here you get to do that with a lot of great people. I’ll miss it all.”