From left to right: Paul, Philippe, Nina, Inez, and Lily van Lankveld.
The first time Lily and Paul van Lankveld stepped foot in Shanghai, the city only counted two metro lines and a much more barren Lujiazui skyline. Now a family of five, the van Lankveld family has been a part of SCIS for nearly a decade! They share with us the changes they’ve witnessed over the years and the experiences along the way.
Hear from those who experience SCIS first-hand, our Community Voices, as we celebrate their success stories, learning journeys, and the struggles in between.
Where is the van Lankveld family originally from?
Nina: That’s always a tough question, but I would say the Netherlands. Although I was born in the United States, and have an American passport, and both Philip and Inez were born in Shanghai.
Lily: It requires a little bit of a background, but my family’s heritage is Indonesian, but I was born in Suriname, which is north of Brazil in South America. The Netherlands colonized a bunch of countries, including Surname, and my family from my mom's side migrated from Indonesia to Suriname in the early 1900s. This makes me a fourth-generation Indonesian born in Suriname under Dutch rule.
Lily, can you speak Bahasa (Indonesian)?
Lily: Sedikit (a little bit)! Nina and I went to an immersion course last year for the summer and studied for a little bit. However, I do speak Javanese, a dialect from the island of Java in Indonesia and spoken by my family on my mother’s side. My dad is from Jakarta so he's a real Indonesian, but he naturalized to become a Dutch citizen in the 70s when we moved to the Netherlands
Paul: I am the only 100% Dutch in the family being born and raised in the Netherlands.
I see, and where did you two meet?
Lily: When I was three months old my family moved to the Netherlands. Back then a lot of families emigrated from Suriname and we ended up in the south of the country which is where Paul grew up. We then met in high school!
High school sweethearts!
When did your China adventure start?
Paul: The first time I came here was in April 2000, on the day of my birthday. And we moved together for the first time in May 2002 for four years without kids. After that, we left and lived in Chicago and the Hague before coming back again in January of 2012. We moved back when Lily was still able to travel about three months before Philippe was born. So, we’ve lived here for 13 years in total. This year we started the tenth year of our China adventure as a family of five! We like it and it’s going well so far.
Lily: We liked it so much that when he was asked a second time to move to China, he didn’t consult me and accepted the offer right away. Even though I had a full-time job and we already chose a daycare and school for Nina, we knew we would be much happier outside the Netherlands. It’s not that we don’t like living in the Netherlands but after living abroad for so long you change as a person and you start to think about what else is out there. It made us a little bit itchy to move again.
It’s a recurring theme amongst ex-pats and third-culture families. What would you say are the biggest differences between Europe and Asia?
Paul: Yes. You know Europe isn’t going anywhere and it hasn’t changed much in a long time. When we moved back to the Netherlands stores closed at 8:00 p.m. and we could not have dinner outside during the week without looks. Here you can eat outside at any time and everything is quite convenient. The most important advantage of living in China is living in Asia and being able to travel to all these different countries, which is what we like. Also work-wise, it’s much more dynamic and there’s a lot more happening. If you want to do something, you can do it in half a year as opposed to in Europe where it can take a very long time.
Lily: The pace of living is so different. When we came to Shanghai for the first time, there were only two metro lines and when we came back, they had just finished building line 12! In six years, that’s amazing. When we left Amsterdam in 2002, they hadn’t begun work on a train line that was going from South to North. I even remember voting for the construction of this line when I was a student in 1997 and it wasn’t until the summer of 2019 that it was finally opened. A completely different pace of things for sure.
What is your favorite thing about living here?
Nina: Friends. I’ve heard a few times that we might move and that’s the hardest thing to deal with because I’m so close with my friends here.
Inez: Friends as well! And our Ayi.
Philippe: Friends and eating dumplings!
How important is it for you to remain in touch with your home culture?
Lily: Quite important because we still have the majority of our family in the Netherlands.
Paul: And we have a house back home, so under normal circumstances, we would go back for the summer and stay there for three weeks or longer. I can also work from the Netherlands at times. During Christmas, we usually go back as well. I think it’s very important that we keep that connection because if the kids want to study in university, the Netherlands offers a lot of great opportunities for that, although they all want to go to the US they say! We will see.
Lily: The connection is important too. Somehow, they need some sort of identity, and the Netherlands is one of their identities. They have so many heritages but the Netherlands for sure because the grandparents lived there so they still have that connection. Nina started taking Dutch at the ECE Campus and then continued in Lower School here at the Hongqiao campus. The Dutch community within SCIS has the opportunity to participate in the Dutch Language program instead of Mandarin. Philippe started when he came into Kindergarten and Inez just started integrated Dutch this year. This has been another fantastic way to stay connected and for the kids to be able to communicate with their grandparents who don’t speak English. We also are quite involved in cultural activities and celebrations within the school and our community.
Speaking to that, what does it mean for the family to be so involved within the school community?
Lily: While I am not a part of the PAFA board, I do a lot as a parent volunteer and am a big supporter of the association. I think it’s important for children to see that we are as parents involved and that we take it seriously. While we don’t want to be there all the time, we do want to make sure that our kids are enjoying their school life. School is such an important part of life. It’s the foundation for everything. We see being involved as a way of giving back as well and this is an example we want to set for our kids.
Nina: For me being involved in the SCIS swim team firstly gives me the advantage of being healthy, but also to have fun and get to know other people. It’s great because it allows me to support and represent the school. Most importantly, for me, the swim team has become a second family because I know everyone so well and it’s very fun to keep swimming and competing together with everyone.
When looking at schooling options, what were the most important factors for you?
Paul: I’d say we were looking more for the American way of education as opposed to the English system. We like the social part of the school and you know, the fact that Nina is confident speaking in front of the whole class is great. For me, my kids don’t need to be the new rocket scientists but they must be socially well adapted. And the fact that the Dutch program was integrated at SCIS played a big part in us ultimately deciding to come here. Also, we wanted to live downtown and SCIS was one of the closest schools to where we lived so it was an easy decision.
Lily: We had lots of friends whose kids also attended SCIS. One of my former boss’s kids even went to school back when Mr. Eschtruth was a Kindergarten teacher at the ECE!
Paul: Also, the facilities are great. The ECE campus is not too big, and neither are the lower and upper school buildings, but they’re not too small either.
Lily: Yes. We also really liked the atmosphere and the fact that people knew each other. Still, today, when we bump into people outside of school it’s a very familiar feeling. SCIS is a very close-knit community and always has been. Even now with the current Covid restrictions, we think of ways to keep going and still be a part of the community.
What is your favorite thing about SCIS?
Philippe: My favorite thing about SCIS is playing outside, math, and also art class with Mr. Blalock.
Inez: The ballroom, PE, and lunch.
Nina: I like having the opportunity to join after-school activities. It’s how many students can gather and socialize. I also really enjoy music class because when I’m older I want to become a singer. I think it’s a nice creative hobby and in music class, you get to learn new things. Out unit right now is Garage band, for example, and we’re going to try and make background music for a movie scene, which is super exciting!
Lastly, as expatriate veterans, what is one piece of advice you have for people new to the lifestyle? New to Shanghai?
Lily: I think the most important thing in any country would be to make an effort to learn the language. It's the only way to connect with your guest country because you're here it's your own choice to be here so you need to understand the language and therefore also the culture. I think that's a very important thing that will make your life easier.
Paul: You have to adapt. People will not change because you have a different way of living, so you have to get used to the way of living here. Some things may be completely different, but you just have to accept them because if you resist you won’t enjoy your time here. For example, at the beginning when we came here in 2002 there was no queue to buy a metro ticket, it was sort of a free for all and you had to fight your way through! Keep an open mind, travel around and get a feel for the city and the country. I travel around a lot for work and always come home with interesting stories to tell about the places I’ve been and the dishes I’ve tried. It’s fun, so I would also say remember to have fun and enjoy your time here.
Nina: I would say the most important is to enjoy your time here and have fun!
Lily: We always hear from friends who left China that they should have done this and that. So, my advice is to simply do it. While you’re here, be active and do more things. When you see something you like, get it and try it because there might not be a next time.
SCIS. One Community.
- community voices