Vientiane, Laos Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Vientiane, Laos

Vientiane, Laos 09/28/20

Background Information:

1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?

I have three children who attended the school.

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2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?

Grades 8, 6, and 3. My kids attended during the 2019-2020 school year.

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3. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?

Government assignment.

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4. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?

Other schools are available, but none are comparable to VIS in terms of academic quality.

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Admissions & Welcome:

1. Are the admissions and placement procedures clearly stated to prospective families, either on the school website or through other means of communication?

VIS has an excellent website, and the admissions procedures are well-stated and clear. We had no problems understanding the admissions and placement process.

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2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?

Excellent. VIS has excellent leadership that has crafted a welcoming and inclusive environment that made our kids - and us - feel at home.

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Administration & School Procedures:

1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?

Communication is good, both between the administration and parents and between teachers and parents. Communication takes place on a variety of levels and through lots of different platforms - ManageBac for grades and enrollment, SchoolsBuddy for extracurricular activities, etc. Teachers regularly emailed (and sometimes even called) us to discuss academic issues, as did the administration.

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2. Aside from school fees, are there required expenses such as uniforms, laptops/tablets, musical instruments, or field trips that parents are expected to cover? What are the approximate costs?

There's a regular field trip for secondary students that was excellent, and that required some additional expenses. Some extracurricular activities had additional costs as well. Costs depend on the activity; for instance, one of our sons went on a Model UN trip to a regional capital (he had a fabulous time) and we were required to pay travel costs. This all seemed perfectly reasonable considering the activity wasn't a required component of the curriculum.

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Academics & Resources:

1. What personal or academic counseling resources are available at this school? Is there a dedicated college counselor at the school? Is he/she familiar with universities worldwide?

VIS does have a college counselor, as well as primary and secondary counselors. Our understanding was that secondary students were encouraged to look at universities worldwide (graduates of the school certainly have been accepted to, and attend, reputable universities around the world), but our kids weren't quite at that stage yet.

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2. Is there before and/or after-school daycare available? What are the costs?

There are after-school activities ranging from sports to arts and music for kids in the primary and secondary levels, some of which have costs while others don't.

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3. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?

The library is excellent, as is the librarian. Our primary-level child was enthralled with his video book readings, which really improved her level of satisfaction with online learning!

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4. What are the technology requirements for students? Do they need their own laptops/ipads? How is technology integrated into the classroom and homework?

Primary students are issued ipads, or can use their own. Secondary students need laptops; if they don't have one, the school will issue them one. Technology is very wired into the learning environment; that was particularly evident during the COVID-19 shutdown, which required many kids (including ours) to study remotely for many months. VIS adapted quickly and did an admirable job facilitating learning on digital platforms.

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5. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?

There are several computer labs and they're good.

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6. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?

This is a area where VIS really shines. VIS has two gorgeous pools which the kids use constantly for swimming lessons (all students are eligible) and competition. There's a big soccer field, and a covered basketball court. Lots of PE options.

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7. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?

The ratio was around 1-15 or 20 in the primary levels. At the secondary levels some classes had lower ratios.

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8. Are Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses available in upper grades? If this is an IB school, is the full diploma required of all students?

VIS has the IB program. Several students have parlayed their IB studies into successful admission in good colleges and universities.

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9. Are students generally challenged appropriately by the curriculum? Please describe any particular strengths or weaknesses in this area. Do you have any thoughts how the curriculum is applied and implemented at this school?

Compared to the boiler-room atmosphere of some hard-charging academic environments in the United States (particularly suburban DC), VIS's level of academic intensity is notably more subdued. That said, the tempo of life in general in Laos moves at a statelier pace, and VIS's notably more relaxed atmosphere doesn't mean that academics aren't taken seriously. Our kids were challenged, and were expected to work hard.

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10. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?

Yes.

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11. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?

VIS has a good visual arts and drama program. They have a black box theatre that hosts one-act plays directed by students and staff. Every year they stage one large play outdoors, which is a fantastic event. If you want to see your kids emote on stage under enormous magnolia trees, VIS is your place.

VIS does fall short in the music department. The instrumental music department is notably weak; many kids (including one of ours) were left with no band or orchestra options.

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12. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?

Yes. All staff are English speaking, and many (if not most) are from English-speaking countries.

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13. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.

The IB program and advanced classes are available. One of our kids took advanced math and liked it.

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14. What services are available for students with physical disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.

Unknown. However, the school is conspicuously handicapped accessible.

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15. What services are provided for speakers of English as a second language at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.

VIS provides classes for Lao kids who are embracing English as a second language, as well as other kids who don't come from an English-speaking household.

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16. What extra-curricular activities (including sports) are available at this school? Have your children participated in these activities? What activities do you feel are missing at the school?

See above. Lots of extracurricular activities, and the community is encouraged to think creatively about expanding the program. Our kids took swimming, soccer, Model UN, Computer programming, gymnastics, journalism, drama, etc.

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Social & Emotional Well-Being:

1. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?

Yes. Unlike many international schools, VIS is wonderfully diverse, and no one demographic dominates the landscape. Our kids made fast friends with kids from Laos, Singapore, the UK, Germany, China, etc.

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2. Are there are any problems with exclusionary behavior, cliques, or bullying at this school? Please describe any problems your children may have experienced in this area.

None that we are aware of.

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Overall Impressions:

1. What letter grade (ranging from A, excellent, to F, fail) would you assign to this school based on your overall experience? Would you choose it again?

A. If the music program was better, I'd say A+.

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2. Please describe some of your child's/children's highlights and challenges during their time at this school.

The SALSA program, which takes all secondary students on an off-site week-long character-building journey, was obviously a very important experience for our kids. VIS's comparatively smaller size allowed our kids to build strong relationships with their teachers; our oldest kid, for example, became good friends with his math teacher, who was also his advisor in Model UN.

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3. Please tell us anything else you think prospective parents and students should know about this school. Thanks for your contribution!

I would not hesitate to recommend VIS to prospective parents and students, both primary and secondary. Our kids have studied in schools all around the world and VIS compared very favorably to some of the very best.

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