We interviewed Ms An, our school’s founder, to learn about her own journey towards building this extraordinary school.
Tran Hanh An is a mother of five children, a fearlessly determined CEO, a social activist and change-maker, and thankfully for us, the founder of our school.
Ms An had a humble upbringing in a city near Hanoi. Her mother was an entrepreneur and businesswoman and her father was a soldier. She had a public-school education, which at times was rough, but provided her with the interpersonal skills and street smarts needed to navigate life. Ms An learned a strong work ethic and the importance of gender equality from both her parents, who had fairly equal share of the parenting, housework, and earning money for the family.
She remembers developing confidence by being listened to and heard in the family;
“In my family, everybody had a voice and my parents really listened to us. So we had our opinion, we had our voice. And even up to now, and even before, my parents always asked, ‘What do you think’? So with the background that we grew up in, it gave us a lot of confidence and a lot of strength.”
Ms An’s father’s military training impacted his own role as a parent and he was very strict. But looking back, Ms An appreciates the discipline, as it gave her skills like self-management and commitment to complete a task.
Ms An went on to study journalism and linguistics and spent much of her early career as entrepreneur and also worked as a teacher.
When Ms An relocated to Hoi An with her husband Max and at that time, three children and one in the belly, it was a move that would become a life-changing decision for the family. They loved the town – the fact that you could live close to the beach, ride bikes through the rice paddies, and how the culture of Vietnamese life spilled into the streets. But a progressive and community-driven international education was lacking, and Ms An tasked herself with establishing her own school.
“I thought, you know, why are we sitting here in hope that a school might come or might change what we want? We came to the town that pretty much has everything but we all know that nothing is perfect, if there is something missing that you and your family need, create it! So I discussed with my husband and also with our big children and said – okay, if we don’t have the opportunity of education at the point that we may have to go back to Hanoi or we may go to Australia.”
“But we loved Hoi An. So we need to use the opportunity and give us the choice. So we opened the school, but not just for us, but for the others as well. Because at the same time, many of my friends were dealing with the same problem that they would love to stay here, but there’s not enough education.”
As luck would have it, a dilapidated dormitory – formally part of an old college, became available and supported her plan. Ms An set to rebuilding it using sustainable practices and her self-taught skills in architecture and interior design. She started by transforming the building and gardens – keeping the traditional Vietnamese façade and creating an open dining space with lunch seating, a music theatre, cosy children’s library, and a communal play area with two large lantern-filled trees. During the design and the build, she had her excellent consultants as her own children and their friends by her side.
Ms An’s original vision for the school has remained true over the five years since its inception. She wanted to build a boutique-sized school where everyone knows each other, the families, the staff, the teachers, and with the children are at the centre of this and balancing academic learning and social skills. This ethos of the school has been well and truly cemented, and the school has become one of those thriving little communities you read about in books, with chickens and a garden, and an open and approachable atmosphere that says; ‘You’re welcome’.
“I’m most proud of the students,” she says. “Their confidence, the dynamic of the students, and watching them change and do well at sports, at music, at academia.”
Ms An’s vision for the school has also extended beyond the students and encompasses a social responsibility towards others in need. Her long-term goals for the school are centred around the community, and giving back – which has led to many impactful activations with clear social outcomes. Over the years the school has raised money for local charities in need and is committed to instilling values of empathy and compassion in its students.
When all’s said and done, if you strip everything about HAIS back to its very core – it really does come down to Ms An’s energy, enthusiasm, vim and vigour. The school is an embodiment of her drive to do things differently and do them properly, to grant attention to what otherwise might go unseen, the simple art of community. And her exceptional vision and foresight is a gift to which all of the HAIS families can be grateful.