From Haileybury to Headmaster

NEWS 8 Nov 2021

Haileybury alumnus Stanley Wang is one of this year’s 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australians. He has been recognised for his work on bilingualism in school to help foster cultural identity in Australia.

Alumni - Stanley Wang

Stanley Wang (OH 2006) sat down with us recently to describe his journey so far…

I came to Australia from Taiwan in 1998, when I was nearly 10. I spent a month in Melbourne with relatives who took me to the local primary school in Glen Waverley. I didn’t speak English but I remember feeling very comfortable in class because I could travel at my own speed.

In Taiwan, the educational experience was very prescriptive and there was always pressure. I was a high-achieving student and I got a sense of satisfaction from completing tasks and lessons but I didn’t love school, whereas, in Australia, I was excited to go to school.

I spent a year nagging my parents to let me come back to Melbourne. They thought it was something I had to get out of my system. I’ve always been a child who craved independence. In Taiwan, the mindset is to live a stable life close to your family—to try something different was a big deal.

Mum didn’t work because she thought spending time with her child was an investment in my development. When we were separated, that was taken away from her. A year after I moved to Melbourne and made it clear that I didn’t want to return to Taiwan, my parents migrated here.

Those early years in Australia helped me see how languages work. When I went to Haileybury, Japanese and French were compulsory and I found it easy to grasp them because I could see how language patterns worked.

I studied Arts and Commerce at the University of Melbourne and volunteered as a tutor for the VCE Summer School on campus. The day before it started, I was invited to be a welfare officer for the program instead and I realised that some students don’t begin at the same starting line because of disadvantage and I wanted to do something about that.

In teaching, you make human connections and can see the impact of what you do. Helping someone to feel inspired about something new gives me a huge sense of achievement. It makes me want to come to work every day.

At a language teacher’s conference, I bumped into my French teacher from Haileybury. Because I was Dux of School and a very committed musician, I guess no one quite expected that I’d end up a languages teacher. Music was a big part of my identity at Haileybury. I was only able to attend because of the music scholarship that the School offered me and most of my teachers remember me because I was quite advanced for my age in piano and violin.

Shortly after that chance meeting, the Principal of Haileybury invited me for a chat. He was looking for a new Head of Languages and was willing to give that opportunity to a 26-year-old. I started off leading about 35 people across campuses—many of them had taught me. I discovered that once you’ve taught a student, you always have their best interests at heart. They were proud to showcase to their current students where languages could take you and they were supportive of the changes and innovations I introduced.

After three years at Haileybury, I took the Gap Year I’d never had. I bought a ticket to London and visited Iran, Azerbaijan, Finland, Estonia and Mauritius. My travels ended in Taiwan where I became CEO of Teach for Taiwan. It was time to connect with that part of my identity that had been put aside for 20 years. I spent two years travelling to rural and remote parts of Taiwan and met my wife, too.

I became Principal of Abbotsford Primary at the end of 2020. It is one of two Chinese–English bilingual schools in Victoria.

For the Chinese community, there is a concern that when you lose the language, you can lose that sense of Chinese identity. A lot of Chinese parents come to Australia so their kids could have a great education, but then their child feels Australian and there are issues with communication and clashes of values. I want this school to be an avenue for those with Chinese heritage to maintain the language and culture, and for those without to foster a love for language learning.

Adapted from an article that first appeared in Pursuit, the University of Melbourne with permission from UoM and Stanley Wang.