If you’ve ever seen Ms An (or even a photo of her for that matter), she’ll be smiling or laughing. Such is her nature to approach life with an eternally optimistic lens. Rarely is her face puzzled or contemplative, and if she’s frowning – she’s thinking, creating, or working out her next major event or school construction.

In her office, there are bookcases, comfortable chairs with cushions, photos of her family, and of the school that she herself built – showing its staggered growth over the last 6 years. It’s a room that is ambient and bright – again a reflection of the woman herself.

As if finding the time to parent isn’t hard enough, Ms An has achieved building Central Vietnam’s leading International school within six years – all whilst raising five children, who now range from the ages of 5 through to 18.

Ms An moved from Hanoi to Hoi An and immediately fell in love with the location. She was drawn to the outdoor atmosphere where the coast meets the paddy fields, and the calm waters are protected by islands and peninsulas. She appreciated the reduced crowds and traffic, and the opportunity to raise children in a safe environment. However, her husband Max, and at the time –  four children, needed to find quality schooling if they were to settle down, but there weren’t local educational opportunities available that fit their needs.

An and Max were not alone in their dilemma. Other parents in the community were also seeking quality schooling. Determined to address the issue, Ms An embarked on a mission to find a suitable location to build a bespoke, customised school that would cater to the needs of both the Vietnamese and Expat communities.

It’s an astounding feat. Since opening its doors in 2018, HAIS has grown to approximately 300 students, increasing enrolments year on year at a sustainable pace, even in the face of a global pandemic, and has kept its ethos of small-scale class sizes and a strong sense of community.

The school implements the globally recognised Cambridge curriculum and has extended specialist subjects and dedicated teachers in Sport, Art, Music, Drama and Digital Literacy. HAIS offers a balanced education where the school motto testifies that students can ‘Find their Passion and Realise their Dream.’

The proof that the students are thriving is there, with a recent ‘Quality Team Award’ presented to HAIS at the Phnom Penh Plunge Swim Meet in Cambodia. Other students have flown to Chicago for music festivals and competed in Mathematics Olympiads in Malaysia. The sense of achievement is strong, and the abundance of opportunities supports all.

So how did she do it?

Ms. An attributes her courage and determination to the biological beats of her upbringing and her parents’ outlook on life. “I grew up in a household where education, music, literature, and a strong sense of community were highly valued and encouraged. In my family, hard work was instilled at a young age.”

“My own mother was a role model for me. She was also a businesswoman and worked hard to earn money for the family. My mother instilled in me the need to be financially independent, to find a way to balance work and life, and to contribute to the betterment of society.”

Ms An is an immensely musical person and has passed these skills onto her own children as well as encouraging all students at HAIS to pursue music in education from Early Years through to A Level. Her enthusiasm for music, dance, and for celebrating events, is contagious, and the atmosphere she has created at the school with regular lunchtime concerts, big school performances, and a dedicated celebration of all cultures, is embraced by all families and the Hoi An community at large.

Managing both being a Mum and a CEO

When asked how she manages to be both a mother and CEO of the school, she responds;

“I suppose by being a CEO with five children at the school, I am able to show that women can achieve a balance of parenting and work. It’s just that the notion of time management needs to shift and sometimes you can be flexible and involve children in the process or the project.”

“I love what I do and am passionate about my job. I am at HAIS every day, working on the ground to assist with new infrastructure, or listening to parents and teachers to improve operations. It’s incredibly rewarding and satisfying work to see the students thrive. But I don’t see myself in a ‘leadership’ role in the family home. I am a mother and a carer. I can be playful or quiet just enjoying a cup of tea or a game or relaxing with my kids. In the home, I am a Mum.”

Sense of Community

This pillar of ‘community’ is really what sets HAIS apart from other schools in the region. In essence, Ms An has created this huge web of a community, a real-life support system of education where all children can benefit. And it is perhaps this kind of mycelial network of parents and teachers and other community members having ideas, being involved, and allowing voices to be heard, that is what has steered HAIS into such remarkably successful territory.

Never one to say ‘tick that’s done’, Ms An continues to look at ways to improve the curriculum moving forward and grow the school in a way that responds to the needs of the community. Last year, she actively set up the HAIS Language Centre to cater for local Vietnamese children and adults in the community. The addition of the Language Centre stemmed from her profound love of language, having studied linguistics and working as an educator herself.

Every year we improve our facilities and we are looking at expanding the school to incorporate a boarding house for students from HCMC or Hanoi, Hong Kong, or Singapore.” 

A Collaborative Effort

Ms An doesn’t just credit herself for the school’s achievements. She is proud of her staff, the collaborative effort of all who have stood by her, Principal Brett, and the Leadership Team.

“Building the school and developing the team has been all part of the journey and I’m thankful to all those who have been a part of it. I think the making of things, whether it be music or an entire school, the kind of sharing of knowledge for the betterment of everyone is something to celebrate. The collaborative process that occurs, and when everyone can share in the success.”

“Ultimately though, as a leader and an educator at HAIS, I value sharing my skills, and by the same token, appreciate the mentoring from the younger voices and the students in the room. Everyone’s ideas and aptitudes are appreciated.”

It’s no surprise that Ms An has many vocal advocates in the community who are grateful for her perseverance, and for making an outstanding education in Hoi An accessible to all of us who need it.