Case Study: The China High School Experience


Originally from Sydney, Christina Nicholas has spent the most part of her schooling living in Beijing. She shares her experience as she begins her tertiary education in Australia.

I have lived in China for almost 10 years – from the age of nine until just a month before my 18th birthday. During that time, I attended several schools in Beijing, both International and local Chinese ones, but the school I stayed at the longest, and graduated high school from in June 2009, was Harrow International School Beijing. Our school followed the British academic system – the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and A Levels. It was no harder applying to Australian universities with my A Levels than it was with the HSC – the only real difference was that I had to send in my grades myself.

So far I have received two offers at the Australian National University, one in the Arts/Law programme and a second in International Relations. I am hoping to pursue a career either in televised media or in government.



The biggest benefit of having an overseas education, for me, was definitely becoming more international. I have been lucky enough to have experienced so many different cultures and met such a wide range of people from so many different backgrounds, that I truly believe I am now capable of fitting in anywhere and being ready for absolutely anything, from Chinese military camp, to English-style Garden parties.

One of the educational highlights during my time in China was Chinese military camp – a mandatory summer camp for our 450- student-strong year group when I attended a local Chinese middle school. This involved eight girls sleeping in one dorm room, 5am wake up calls, jogging in unison before each meal, “food” that I found inedible (and I have stomached some strange things), marching and singing songs that adorned Chairman Mao and the Communist party. Although the camp was only a week pokies play online long, its impact on me was huge, and it is one of those events that I don’t think I will ever forget.

Another highlight was work experience at an Iranian TV station during the Beijing 2008 Olympics. How many reporters get the chance to do that, let alone a high school kid going out to Olympic stadiums to speak to international Olympians with a microphone in my hand and a professional cameraman by my side?


During my six-month ‘break’ between finishing high school in China and starting university here in Australia, I’ve been working at Channel 10 and Channel 7 as a transcibor, learning to drive and of course to cook and clean.

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I chose ANU for a number of reasons – obviously its rankings are very impressive at number 1 in Australia and number 17 in the world, right after Cornell and Stanford. I thought about applying to the UK or the USA, but in the end decided only to apply to universities in Australia. Tuition fees anywhere else are unreasonably high and as an Australian citizen I am entitled to government support such as HECS. But another reason is simply because I love Australia. I love its multiculturalism and how laid-back it is, and of course its envied weather.


Upon moving back to Australia, there was initially a culture shock – catching public transport instead of getting a taxi, not being stared at on the street for looking different and of course the terrifying high prices of everything. But the culture shock was definitely not as big as I thought it would be. Within two weeks I was watching Rugby League and drinking Toohey’s with mates like I’d been there all my life. Although apparently you can spot my “international accent” a mile away! Having such a unique upbringing has meant that I have had to learn to adapt to different cultural surroundings from a very early age, and I cannot think of a better way to have grown up than the way I did.

There are little things that I wish I had experienced as a “normal” kid in Australia, like growing up in the suburbs and having all my best friends live on the same street. But when I really contemplate those small things, I realise that I haven’t actually missed out on all that much, and I would never give up my own unique experiences for the world. Besides, “I’ve lived in three different continents” is a much better conversation starter than: “I was born and have lived my whole life on the same street.”


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