30 Years of History of UNIS Hanoi


Our school celebrated its 30th anniversary on September 19th, not only to honour the birth of UNIS Hanoi, but also to commemorate the 40 years of Vietnam’s presence in the United Nations. Along with our all-school assembly that included both a birthday celebration for UNIS Hanoi, and a very blue all school photo, students had the chance to enjoy and appreciate the accomplishments and changes of UNIS throughout these years.

We came together with Dr. Barder, our longest serving head of school who has been here for 10 years, to talk about the meaning of UNIS Hanoi’s thirty year anniversary.

So, how long have you been here?

This is year 10.

Using one or two adjectives, how would you describe UNIS?

Wow, one or two adjectives… I think… Maybe it’s a phrase. It would be “the high quality of relationships”, and I mean that across all different groups. Between students, between students and faculty, between faculty and administration, between school and parents. I think, in the end, it’s an extremely high quality of relationships. That’s been the most appealing, the most rewarding, and one of the reasons why I’ve stayed so long. I’ve really enjoyed that.

How has your time in UNIS impacted you?

I’ve learned so much about students, about working with faculty, about how to focus a school on what’s most important, which is student learning. And, to not get distracted by things that take up a lot of time and don’t necessarily always attribute to our core business, which is student learning. I think that has probably been the single most important thing, learning mentality: that we are all learners. That certainly students are here to learn, but we have learned that the best teachers also look to improve. They want to be learners as well. Our school board has been a wonderful model for wanting to learn, best practice in the governance. Then, it becomes a model in the region for the best-practice governance board for other schools. I think I’ve benefitted from learning how to create and facilitate, what I call, a learning community: a community of learners (because that’s our core presence without getting distracted by other things).

I suppose that’s what every school strives for.

Well, you’d be surprised at how many schools get distracted or get taken off of that by controversies, vested interests of some, parents or some individuals. Sometimes there can be legal or country imposed problems. I’ve got colleges who spent hours trying to get visas for their teachers. Hours… Days… Schools where the teachers can’t even come into the country for two months after school starts because of visa problems. So we don’t have that here. So, yes, I think all schools strive for it, but they don’t always have that chance or a community will come in and be upset about something, so you end up spending all your time and attention on a small group who’s creating ripples in the community or might end up in the paper, accusations in social media and things. And so the school spends all their time on that at the expense of spending time on students and their professional development. So we’re very fortunate, I feel very fortunate to be here. I think it’s a good time to be here. The school has grown in its reputation with the government for example and so they’re keen to support us and do what the can to make sure that we are able to do what we want to do. At the same time, we work very hard to earn that trust as we do with the UN and having the UN’s support. It’s fantastic. People know about our school partially because we are one of two in the world. It’s really cool. And so when we recruit teachers, we automatically have that “brand” that other schools don’t because people admire the values of the UN. So there’s an automatic association with our school and that.

How do you think the school has changed over the years you’ve been here?

I think that when I arrived the school population was around 800….something like that so we were coming out from being a small school and to becoming a bigger school where we would be able to put in place a lot of systems that were needed. You can’t really do things informally whenever you’re at 1140, and so you’ve gotta have all kinds of things in place. When you think of the fact that we have upwards of 800 students, that’s a massive thing to manage and if we didn’t have a good system in place, it would be a disaster. So we’ve been able to put systems in place I think to properly serve so that things run smoothly. And that’s a big difference from when i came. Are our goals the same? Absolutely. It’s like what i said yesterday: when those 12 kids came in 1988, there was really no difference in what we tried to do with them in the past. It’s just now were bigger and we’ve been able to enhance the experience in some ways. You know there are some that would say “I wish we were smaller so it feels more like a family” so people think back and say “I wish..” but the bottom line is that we are able to offer a high quality experience for students. And I think that’s what where we’ve been focusing on and in the future will continue to focus on, but certainly my journey has been exciting and again, I feel fortunate to be here at this time when the school wanted to prioritize certain things that I particularly value and like to do. Like focus on learning, building quality relationships. Those are things that are really important. Building a sense of community too which I think was always there but i think we worked even more even as we’ve grown to retain that sense of community. That’s what those big assemblies are for. To remind us.

That’s what Felix is for!

That’s it! That’s exactly right.

What does this 30th year anniversary mean to you?

I think it means that while there’s a lot of turnover, and a lot of change in the school, the country, the world, that there is a history here and that what we have here is something that started back then and successive people have built on that. I think with coming and going, sometimes that’s lost. People think that “well, only the years I was there was the best ones”. But i think its important to be reminded that “here’s where we started” and while there’s been a lot of changes and a lot of people have given it lots of time and energy to make it better, that there is this continuous continuity and stability that if we were living in our home countries we would’ve seen because the school would’ve been in our neighborhood. We would be there for elementary, and all of middle and high school. That continuity is automatic. Whereas here, kids come and go after 2 or 3 years and they don’t really know about the fact that the school does have history. I think the 30 years to me means that the school does have stability it does have a history it does have some foundation that we have continued to build on.

Lastly, do you have any words for some of the students who have grown old with the school per say. Who’ve been here for at least half the lifespan of the school. I mean some of my peers have been here for 15 years. Do you have any words for them?

First of all, I think that, we hope that the experience they’ve had here has been one that they have grown and appreciated because they deserve just like anyone else, the best of what we have to offer. That we hope that when they leave here, that they will feel ready of the next steps, whatever those are. And we hope that, like we tell all of our alumni, but I think in particular the ones that have been here the longest, we really hope that when you do leave after grade 12, that you will always be able to come back and stay in touch. And again, as you become an adult, know that you are still connected to UNIS that will hopefully be in existence for many years to come and that this will be a place that you spent a significant amount of your life. And therefore that it will always be a home for you. I think that that is really important.