We have an informative back-and-forth with the founders of Renaissance International School HCMC Mr Tuyen Nguyen and Ms Quynh Nguyen.
You both are American Vietnamese, can you tell us a little about your family here and the US?
We are lucky to have a big family. We have four children, and the older two are studying in Houston, Texas, where Tuyen’s side of the family are based. Our oldest daughter is graduating this year and will be attending Babson College next year. We also have two little boys who live here and attend Renaissance, and Quynh’s family, who mostly live in Vietnam, really enjoy having them around.
You are the founders of Renaissance International School HCMC, why did you choose to go into education and why HCMC?
HCMC is our hometown by choice, and we believe that any project requires a lot of personal attention for it to be successful, therefore HCMC was the only option we would consider. There are many great international schools in the city, but we wanted to create something very special for our children that even today only Renaissance can offer – a small sized school with a strong focus on excellence in teaching and learning where a student is not just a number. Because we capped the size of the school relatively small, we have a unique, very vibrant, warm, friendly, and family-orientated atmosphere in the school where relationships are valued, and this is something large schools are just not able to offer.
Your 2 youngest are in EYFS here, how do they see themselves, as American or Vietnamese students?
It is difficult to say at this age but we would like to hope that they will identify themselves as Vietnamese with a global outlook and an international mindset. We wanted them to grow up confident with their own identity and proud of being Vietnamese and at the same time feeling comfortable living and working anywhere in the world.
I have seen some of your Vietnamese Modern art collection, why does this art form interest you and why did you start collecting?
It has been our passion for years, and Vietnam has an incredible variety of great artists who however do not have the same opportunities as successful artists who live in the art epicenters like New York, London, Paris, Bangkok or Singapore. Quynh has a gallery in Houston that represents Vietnamese artists in the USA and enhances their reach and exposure. Vietnamese art is very unique, and certain types of painting, like for example the lacquer painting, have been invented and developed in Vietnam, and therefore it is impossible not to get fascinated by it. Moreover, Vietnamese artists are exploring many current issues that resonate well with our family on a personal level, and it is great to be able to connect to an artwork emotionally as well as appreciating it intellectually.
Many of the pieces are displayed at the Renaissance School, is there a reason for that and how do the students react to the pieces?
In the school, we want to give our students and teachers the opportunity to experience Vietnamese art first hand, co-existing with it rather than just briefly seeing it in a museum or a book. We are planning to build a dedicated art gallery next to the school that will host the collection and have learning spaces for students, and our teachers are developing an integrated art programme that will incorporate some of the artworks. This gives our students unique access to Vietnamese modern art that they won’t have a chance to experience anywhere else in the world. Our students have their favourite pieces, and grow up with them, changing their interpretation of the piece as they are learning and experience new things at school and their worldview is maturing, and it is amazing to be part of their journey.
In Education for a long time STEM has been promoted, now there is a strong drive for STEAM, which includes the arts. Do you think Arts is important in modern day education?
Yes, of course. There are many research studies that demonstrate the benefits of the arts studies for all age groups. In particular, art helps children developing their transferable skills, which is very important nowadays, and perhaps even more important than any specialised knowledge. According to the USA and EU governments’ forecasts, by 2030, which is when our children will enter the job market, 85% of the jobs that will be available do not exist today, and therefore it is essential to emphasise the holistic development of the student so that they can adapt to future demands in the workplace.
Do your children have the same passion for the Arts as you do?
With the younger ones, we are not sure yet because as parents we find everything they do to be brilliant. Our daughter is a keen and talented painter, and our older son loves painting too. Our daughter went the the Glassell Art School in Houston and her artworks were chosen to be displayed there. Our children also enjoy joining us on our museum trips and when we are visiting artists, so we hope that they have inherited the arts gene from us.
Renaissance is celebrating it’s 10th anniversary, what have been the best moments of that journey?
It’s been such a great journey with the school, and there are so many magic moments to remember! Every moment makes a huge difference and counts, whether we manage to recruit an outstanding teacher, or improve our facilities or have an incredible event when all families come together – all of these are valuable and cherished. Most recently, it was great to become the first and only Round Square school in Vietnam, to go through a BSO inspection and a CIS accreditation, and for our students to win the city Science Competition and Piano Competition, beating all other international schools – a great success! Also, our students achieving the Best in the World result in their IGCSE Mandarin Chinese exams, for three years in the row, was absolutely magic!
After 10 years how do you see the future of school, what are your plans?
As always we are full of plans and ideas. We have created a number of new roles, like University & College Counsellor, Head of Pastoral Care, and SATs Teacher, for the next academic year, and are looking forward to welcoming new colleagues soon. We have also purchased a great piece of land next to the school, and will start building new facilities – including an art gallery – there very soon.This summer, our Primary playground will be completely transformed to become an exciting sensory play area for our students, like no other in the city. We are also looking forward to the arrival of our new Head of School, Mr Peter Gittins, who has a great background in international education and will no doubt take the school to a new level. We are one of the best schools in the city, and will continue to invest in the school and our community to maintain and enhance our excellent reputation.