Finnish Diving Family Finds Education Solution on Phuket

New international school enables keeping their Finland summer sojourns.

Combining Finland and Thailand can seem like an ideal solution – provided the stay in Scandinavia is dedicated to the summers. Many Finns are doing so within the diving community on Phuket, catering to their fellow countrymen coming for diving holidays during the winter high season here.

The couple Sven Schlegel and Virpi Lehtonen are such diving freaks who have turned their interest into a business in Thailand enabling them to do just that, getting the best out of two countries. But now their three small children, all in or approaching school age, is urging them to settle down in one place more than the other.

FinnFamily_childrenThai and Finnish schools
Their oldest son, Walther, has so far studied in Finland and yet also attended a school in Thailand; first the English programme of the Kajonkietsuksa School and then the international programme of the new Kajonkiet International School Phuket since 2011.

“For his first grade we were actually in Finland, and Walther learned how to read and write, so the basic skill was so strong that when we moved here and he entered in Kajonkietsuksa it was much easier and they taught how to read and write the English language,” said his mother Virpi, upon a visit to the new school premises to open for the next term in 2012.

“But it was also challenging because we were only here like five months so he was missing too many months of the school year. But Walther has also attended a Finnish school so we also bring the Finnish school books here with us and I try to teach him those books and subjects, but I’m not a teacher so it’s been difficult to do.”

In the middle of April they returned to Finland where many exams and tests covering the whole Finnish school year awaited the boy.

So far they have kept Walther in the Finnish school since he has not attended the Thai school the whole year but still been able to complete his exams in the home country.

“But this is not going to work anymore, because next school year will be his fifth and they will then also learn history, chemistry and physics – subjects that we cannot teach him.”

“We will spend more than six months here so it will be easier to stay and quit the school in Finland,” thought Sven, even though they intend to continue running a business they have also in Finland during the summer periods.

FinnFamilyKajonkiet’s international programme
The new international school Kajonkiet with its international programme, and which moves to a brand new campus for the upcoming autumn term, has certainly also helped them to take this decision.

“I have to say that this international programme has been much better for Walther,” said the mother. They support each other and all share the feeling to have a home country where you have friends. In the English programme, on the contrary, most students are Thais and have their roots here so they don’t miss anything.”

“Class sizes are much smaller and I like what they are teaching them; much more than just Thai subjects. Now they have Europe’s history and these kind of things.”

Kajonkiet follows the British Curriculum and is currently a Cambridge Examination Centre (the world’s largest provider of international education programmes and qualifications for 5–19 year olds).

The new school will provide facilities with the promise of “a fantastic learning environment”, situated along a mountain hillside in the outskirts o Kathu outside Phuket Town, featuring a number of swimming pools, and many other sports and arts facilities.

Walther’s English skills have grown to the level that he could independently answer to questions from ScandAsia.

“They teach us more English here than in the English Programme. Now I don’t need any extra books, such as an English-Finnish dictionary. I know the meaning of the words now anyhow.”

“I used to be sad being in Thailand but now I have much more fun in the International Programme, so I don’t really want to go back to Finland,” he said before the departure.

“I must add that it’s been so nice with this programme and the teachers who are amazing, like family for Walther. It is the first school year I’ve heard him saying that he wants to stay here – because the most important was all the friends he has back in Finland,” said Virpi.

“Yesterday was the last day for him so he’s been very sad. He realised he wants to stay here.”

“Nowadays it’s easier because he’s all the time playing games online with friends in Finland. They can speak, also on Skype, and it does not feel like long a distance between friends,” added the father.

Phuket conveniences
Within a few years also their two youngest children will need to start a proper school. So far, the youngest son Max and daughter Camilla have been in a nursery in Chalong near their home.

Life on Phuket is different in many ways for the Finns. Given they are within a seasonal industry the adults have to work long hours during the diving/tourist season. Then one the things they really appreciate, is that here they can afford things more, such as hiring their own nanny to look after the children at home.

“It’s so nice that there is someone to take care of the children if you are working. And to clean up your home,” said Sven with satisfaction in his voice.

“And many basic things that take a lot of your time in Finland you can skip here because you can have that nanny and you can just call a restaurant and order take-away food.”

Exploring Thailand
If they have some days off they prefer to stay home, explained Sven. But they enjoy going to Splash waterpark, aside swimming, and diving of course.

“Walther has now also completed his open water dive course. So sometimes we go diving the three of us,” said Virpi.

Visiting other parts of Thailand is also something they will continue doing onwards.

“We have lived in Samui, and here in Phuket, but as for other places in Thailand – we have just visited Pattaya, Bangkok and Khao Lak a few times. But I have to say there are so many places still to see and we try when we have holidays to visit other destinations,” Sven added who came here for his first diving season in 2000/2001.

In 2006 he and Virpi bought a diving company on Samui and later moved on with their live-aboard diving boat and became co-owners of Chalong Sea Sport. Their plan is to continue catering to the Finnish base, which makes up 90 per cent of their customers.

“Diving is a popular hobby in Finland nowadays and most people do it when going on holiday outside Finland. It’s one of the best things you can do because the underwater scenery that you can find here is very beautiful. Also, if you don’t want to spend your whole day on the beach, you can get sun but also some action when you dive.  I’ve been diving since 11 years old. For me, going some place for a holiday I always wanted to go diving.”

Text: Joakim Persson
Photos: Joakim Persson

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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