Seoul Foreign School – Inspiring Excellence in Korea for over 110 years
Seoul Foreign School
“All of the Kiwis I’ve met over the years have an incredible sense of fun and exploration. They are almost the archetypal international workers and travelers,” said Colm Flanagan, Head of School, Seoul Foreign School. “We have always tried to support the great work that the Kiwi Chamber does for New Zealand and New Zealand businesses. I would have to admit that having the best Pinot Noir in the world doesn’t hurt!”
Colm Flanagan, Head of School, Seoul Foreign School
When you think of top International schools in Korea, the first school that often comes to mind is Seoul Foreign School (SFS). Since its humble beginnings in 1912, SFS has been a stalwart in the international community educating tens of thousands of children over the years from the local missionary, diplomatic and business communities.
With its idyllic location on 25 acres of hills and forest in Yeonhui-dong, SFS offers students world-class facilities and programs that are second to none – all inspiring educational excellence. Whether the path is through the premiere International Baccalaureate (IB) or British School program, the school offers unparalleled learning opportunities for the younger generation.
Long-term expat and alumnus, Peter Underwood, Managing Partner at IRC Consulting, a Korea-focused business development consultancy, and Trustee of the SFS Foundation, shared his thoughts on how the school has grown over the years to become a top international school in Korea.
“When I was at SFS, the school was small, with less than 20% of the current student body, and everyone knew everyone as it was a close community,” said Mr. Underwood. “It is impressive to see what SFS has become and I am confident that the school will continue to respond to changes in the community and remain the model for mentoring future generations to become global leaders.”
Over the years, SFS has been an ardent supporter of the Kiwi Chamber and its events and it is a partnership that is only getting stronger.
“The central tenet of the chamber is to work with inspirational and innovative organisations, and you have to look no further than Seoul Foreign School,” said Dr. Tony Garrett, Chairman, The Kiwi Chamber. “Their commitment to developing well-rounded leaders of the future is truly amazing. We cherish our partnership.”
As part of its Inspire with Innovation Series, The Kiwi Chamber caught up with Colm Flanagan, Head of School, Seoul Foreign School, to discuss the institution, its top-notch facilities and the education it offers as well as its rich heritage in Korea.
SFS in 1967
SFS is well-known for its long history in Korea. Please tell us when the school was founded and how that tradition has evolved over the years to make SFS what it is today.
Seoul Foreign School started as a community school in 1912 to support the missionaries then working in Korea. It started with 12 students and has grown into an international school of 1,500 students. There is so much to say about the history and evolution of SFS and in 2012, when SFS celebrated its centenary we published a book, entitled ‘100 Years of Excellence’, which maps out the school’s rich history.
SFS in 1967
This coming year is an important year as the school will be celebrating its 110th anniversary. Please explain the significance of this and what plans the school has to mark this important milestone.
Plans have already begun to mark our 110th anniversary and the update to ‘100 Years of Excellence’ is under way, outlining the journey we have been on over the last 10 years. Amongst many things the school will be holding a celebratory gala which will be an incredible opportunity to reconnect with the thousands of alumni that SFS has throughout the world. It will be an incredibly exciting year for the school.
I understand the school has over 40 years of running an International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Please tell us about the IB program at SFS and how it helps students succeed in life.
SFS has indeed been running the IB Diploma Program for over 40 years but it is only in the last few years that we have become an all through IB school, running the Primary Years Program and the Middle Years Program in our Elementary & Middle Schools. The IB is widely regarded as the gold standard for international schools and it was only fitting that a school of SFS’s standing should be running the most demanding educational program.
What one or two things differentiate SFS from other international schools in Korea?
One or two things does not really get close to identifying what makes SFS different. However, we are a mission driven school and our ‘dedication to the service of others’ is a cornerstone of that mission. We believe that for a student to be a fully rounded and successful person, you need to understand that helping others along the way is part of your life journey. Our connection to local charities and organizations roots us in service work and to our community in Seoul.
To fully appreciate what makes SFS different, you have to visit our incredible campus and facilities. The atmosphere is one that hits you forcibly as you walk around our grounds. However, what makes a great school a great school is great teachers and our singular drive is to consistently recruit and retain the very best educators to support, guide and inspire our incredible students.
How has SFS handled the COVID-19 situation during these difficult times? What has been done to get the kids back to school safely for in-person classes?
There have been many challenges throughout the pandemic but what has been crucial is meeting those challenges as a community. We have tried throughout to communicate and work with the students and families whom we serve. Making difficult decisions to ensure the safety of our community whilst always striving to open our campus as much as possible to ensure that our students can engage with each other and our teachers, has been our guiding principle. What you learn in a crisis such as this is how much you need to rely on each other and develop genuine teamwork. I have been blessed to have an incredible team of teachers, staff, cleaners, bus drivers, administrators and governors, all driven to do their best for the school.
Covid-19 safety measures
Please tell us about yourself and your stay in Korea. What were your previous roles?
I have been in Korea for nearly seven years now, although it feels like seven months. I love Seoul and the Korean people. In fact one of the great privileges I have had is working with our local staff, who in my opinion are the best in the world. The incredible work ethic of this country is something I will never underestimate or forget. Both of my children graduated from SFS and my wife and family have treasured our years in Seoul.
I was a Headmaster of a private school in Chile for four years before joining SFS and before that I was a Headteacher of a state school in Yorkshire, England for nine years. Most of my teaching career was in inner-city London, working in some of the most underprivileged areas of the capital. This was where I developed my passion for teaching and an understanding of the importance of education.
One of Mr. Flanagan’s photographic works
We have heard that you have taken on a new hobby these days. Please tell us about your new hobby and any others you have.
One of my personal challenges last year was that my family were living in the UK, so for the first time in many years I was living on my own. I decided to buy myself a lovely Leica camera and resurrect an old photographic hobby from 40 years ago to try and utilize the time I would normally spend with my family. What I’ve learned over the last few months is how many incredibly talented amateur photographers there are posting and printing incredible images of our beautiful world. The quality of my camera far exceeds my talent but I am enjoying the learning process.
Early years education
SFS has been a long-term sponsor and supporter of The Kiwi Chamber. What connects SFS to the chamber and what do you get out of the relationship?
All of the Kiwis I’ve met over the years have an incredible sense of fun and exploration. They are almost the archetypal international workers and travelers. We have always tried to support the great work that the Kiwi Chamber does for New Zealand and New Zealand businesses. I would have to admit that having the best Pinot Noir in the world doesn’t hurt!
Is there anything else you would like The Kiwi Chamber members to know about SFS?
Our passion is to provide the very best education for each one of our students. As we move towards coming out of the challenges of the pandemic I would like to see more and more of the New Zealand community of Seoul connect with SFS and become part of this 110 year legacy.
For more information on Seoul Foreign School, please visit www.seoulforeign.org