Fion Chan Chui-tung could barely utter a complete sentence in Putonghua or English a year ago.
Now, after 12 months at Utahloy International School, a sprawling and pristine international school in Guangzhou, the Hong Kong teen converses effortlessly with her ethnically diverse schoolmates.
Fion, 18, is one of a growing number of pupils who have upped sticks and headed north to study. Enrollment of Hongkongers in international schools in Guangzhou and Shenzhen is rising by 5 to 10 per cent a year.
Parents who spurn prestigious international schools in Hong Kong in favour of mainland ones cite a list of factors: lower tuition fees, low living costs, a strict teaching regimen and bucolic campuses where not a word of Cantonese is spoken.
Fion’s mother, Luk Yim-fong, a businesswoman, transferred her daughter from Heung To Secondary School in Tseung Kwan O to Utahloy so that she would not be surrounded by Cantonese speakers. “Although Heung To offers Putonghua classes, all the students speak Cantonese after class,” she says. “From my business dealings with multinational corporations like Samsung, even Korean businessmen speak fluent Putonghua. Mandarin is a language my daughter must master in order to thrive in future.”