Eastern Swedish School Opened in Ban Phe

A Swedish couple, where the husband has worked for the tax authority since twenty years back, quit their jobs, sells it all and moves with their children to Thailand. That kind of story is no longer really news, and yet it is the kind of step that takes courage. So what makes a family do it and how did they go about it?

In the case of the Fredriksson family from outside Gothenburg who dared to do it, the breaking up from the western society’s routines also has another dimension – the opening of yet another new Swedish school in Thailand.

For the Fredriksson’s it’s about fulfilling a dream. It can also be about jumping out of the rat race, as Martin Fredriksson describes it. Breaking patterns and trying to live more for the day, tomorrow is another day – that might come… He took leave from his position at the tax authority, together with his wife Katarina sold their house and decided to try and move full time to Thailand with their two children.

Some takes that step but, wisely, not without some planning. Actually, their Thailand story has a very spontaneous start in that they purchased a holiday home in Thailand – in a village for Swedes – on paper without even having visited Thailand.

When they came over for the first time during the autumn 2008 they utterly fell for the country and after a second visit in 2009 to their second home, they felt they would like to spend more of their time there, and not just visiting. But with young children this requires education facilities.

And entering a Thai school is far from often a feasible option, with the lack of English and no Swedish learning as main concerns. In the case of this family, like many others, they wanted a Swedish school. A number of them had already been started in resort areas frequented and populated by Swedes. But there was none on Thailand’s east coast, from Pattaya and further east, where in fact an already large community of Swedes have settled down primarily between Ban Phe (Koh Samet’s mainland port town) and Mae Phim (in addition to in Jomtien/Pattaya).

Starting a school on his own
In early 2010 Martin had understood the situation and found a mission – if he wanted a Swedish school there, on Thailand’s east coast, he would have to open it himself! So he started contemplating the idea, and setting things in motion, while his wife was sceptical at first.

These are still early days but their school start-up became reality as Eastern Swedish School (ESS) opened on 1 November for the first test-run as of its inaugural, shortened school year. But much has been accomplished already within a relatively short time frame – from idea to inception. Many key components have fallen into place, seemingly almost as if meant to be.

And it did not take long before many Swedish families, both in Sweden and as second home abroad families in Thailand started showing interest.

A total of around 25 students are expected during this first school year, most of them short-term during the peak winter season.

ESS functions as an away-from-home school as well as a permanent school.

“We have two variants. Those who will study full time whose parents live or work here or those semi-Swedish where often the father is Swedish and with a Thai mother, or she has own children where they have the interest in having their children learning Swedish. And one thinks that many of the Thai schools don’t keep the similar quality as a Swedish school,” explains Martin.

“The other one is those vacation children where the parents want to stay longer than two weeks. We start from minimum four weeks but the first year we accept also for shorter periods than that as one wants to come here and get to know the area, the school and try it out.”

And then one brings study plan and books from Sweden and ESS has contact with their teacher back home for evaluation.

“So when applying for leave one also applies to this school so we write certificates to the school back home that the student is registered. And that enables parents to be here up to three months, which is popular especially for those families on parental leave.”

Up to grade 6 students can study full-time at ESS. After that one must sign up to Sofia Distans in Sweden, for distance learning via the Internet, where ESS is also interested in taking on and doing lecturing onwards.

“Since no foreign schools are allowed to give grades it becomes complicated if they want to stay here longer than grade 6. We don’t have all the languages here or for example handicraft as topic, in which they get grades in high school. And there are many national tests that we are not able to hold.”

Life coaching education
In addition to being in Thailand, studying at ESS will be special for the children and their parents as they get a unique pedagogic which is permeated by principles from mental training.

Initially Martin Fredriksson had consulted the already existing Swedish schools in Thailand but eventually he could join forces with education expert Lars-Erik Uneståhl who is conveniently expanding his coaching training centre to Thailand. Centre of Excellence Training, and affiliate to Skandinaviska Ledarhögskolan, is located nearby Thaihem, a Swedish villa community some 20 kilometres further east of Ban Phe.

Lars-Erik Uneståhl is well known for his work and research within mental training and as sports psychologist, which paves the way for high quality in the education, according to ESS.

The teaching style takes into consideration each student’s individual method of learning, while learning to learn and learning for life – where the school is the first step in one’s life of continued learning.

It’s a lot about the individual, to create motivation with the student; self-confidence more than pumping the brain with information,” explains Martin.
The school will not be satisfied with just showing the path to good grades but to also work on life coaching and also places focus on health, including both physical and mental training.

ESS also intends to train the parents to get a long-lasting effect when they return back home.

Ban Phe in the centre
The school is quietly located in the small port town of Ban Phe, on the premises of a vast privately owned land where bungalows for rent are also spread out, and with large open grass fields round the school building. Going down to the beach is walking distance.

“When looking in a wider perspective that the school will grow to target a larger area, then it is very well-placed. People stay on Hat Mae Ram Phoeng beach, near Ban Phe and towards Mae Phim. And we are also close to Rayong.”

The goal for ESS is first to keep on growing until to a capacity of having up to 70 students. Then Martin is also positive to the idea of opening up an affiliate school in Jomtien/Pattaya, a few years down the line. One step at a time.

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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