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Susanne Christine Heß – principal and Corona manager

Susanne Christine Heß heads the German School “Shanghai Hongqiao”

How does a principal explain to her high school graduates that exams have to be postponed? How are young students able to learn when everyone has to stay at home? These are the kinds of questions many principals have asked themselves over the past year and a half – including Susanne Christine Heß, who had just started her new job at the beginning of the first Covid-related lockdown. Being the head of a private German educational campus in the Chinese metropolis of Shanghai brought special challenges.

In addition to secondary school students, the 55-year-old principal has to keep an eye on primary school students as well as on pre-school children, whose parents pay school fees and expect high standards of educational institutions. “It’s not easy to replace a kindergarten in lockdown times. And of course, we all wanted the children to be taught well even in this time of crisis,” recalls the German and History teacher, who previously worked at a Stuttgart grammar school for ten years.

It is precisely under these special conditions that the German School Shanghai Hongqiao, the hub of the local German-speaking community, has benefited from the close communication with parents – and from excellent equipment. “Here, it’s not teachers who take care of the network infrastructure, but actual IT professionals who do this with great passion and commitment. Together, we were able to quickly set up an e-learning system and ensured that everyone had the necessary programs at their disposal,” says Susanne Christine Heß.

Of course, the crisis manager was no better equipped for the Covid challenge than anyone else. But at least she had prepared herself well for her Shanghai adventure: She and her husband had gotten their first taste of China during travels, and she had learned about the country and its people from articles, books, and documentaries. She decided on an apartment in downtown Shanghai, goes shopping in Chinese stores and tries to learn Mandarin alongside her job so as not to live in a “German bubble”. By now, she understands, for example, how important collecting points for a good spot at universities are in the eyes of many Chinese parents and how difficult it is for them to regard stacking building blocks in kindergarten as learning.

The life outside the school campus impresses the childless teacher every day anew. Even after a year and a half in Shanghai, she still hasn’t gotten used to the fact that new glittering skyscrapers shoot up into the sky every day, while old city districts seem to close down overnight and two people sit in front of their shop playing mah-jongg two corners down the street.” Anyone who doesn’t get involved with the Asian culture”, of this is the principal convinced, “is missing out.” Janna Degener-Storr


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