Our school stands out by our students, and by our teams! Today, we’re meeting with Audrey Santolini and Clément De Meester, from the Guidance Counselling department, to learn more about their missions, and what makes the strength of their team.
Hello to you both and thank you for taking the time to meet with us. How long have you been working within your department and what is exactly your job?
Audrey Santolini: I joined the Guidance Counselling department 8 years ago, in 2014, and worked for 6 months in partnership with a former colleague who is now at Luxembourg French School, and Clément joined me the following back-to-school.
Clément De Meester: I started in 2015, I had been at the LFS since 2007 as an English teacher. When I had the opportunity to join the department, I first split my time between teaching and counselling, and now mostly focus on the counselling part.
AS: Our jobs are similar, the difference is mostly geographic, based on the universities and schools we focus on. I handle studies done in France while Clément specialises in studies done in English-speaking countries. This choice happened naturally, there was a need of expertise in these two fields, and the rest is shared between cross-disciplinary missions.
What gave you the envy to pursue a career in students counselling?
CDM: The will to work here came initially from the fact I wanted to have an experience abroad, in China mostly, because I had started learning Chinese in France. Then, I got interested in seeing how we could help students to reach their full potential, how to guide them by bringing the best possible pieces of advice. What motivates me is to help them understand their qualities, which they don’t necessarily know about themselves.
AS: Following Clément’s idea, I wanted to grow talents, and identify them early in the student’s school path. It is really important to feel that thanks to our investment, students can flourish throughout their school successes in High School and later on in their studies and strengthen their self-confidence and self-esteem.
What motivates you the most in your job?
AS: Our common thread is really to accompany, guide, and inform students. It is the idea of exchanging, sharing to make them grow individually. We are not in a linear or homogeneous approach for everyone, we adapt our support to each student personally. That’s what I like about my job. For a same training course, for a same objective, the guidance we provide can be entirely different from one student to another.
CDM: Completely agree, the idea is to share and introduce students to different academic paths, but not only that, it’s also to help them showcase their own personality.
AS: It’s quite funny, we see students evolving from the first contact we have with them, usually towards the end of Middle School. Sometimes, they don’t really understand why we’re here, we don’t have a red pen to mark copies, we give homework, but the homework is not the same for everyone. The more they grow and experience High School and its challenges, the more time they spend with us in our office. They learn to ask for our help when they need it, which is something they don’t know at the beginning. The most beautiful success is to work with them towards their own personal excellence.
CDM: Students have different personalities, the most independent ones do a lot of research by themselves, while others come to see us more regularly to be supported more, because they need to be reassured and have a lot of questions.
Describe a typical day at the LFS.
CDM: There are not really typical days, there is always a lot going on at different levels. We meet with students, we handle interviews, we meet with parents, who sometimes also have a lot of questions, we intervene in class. We work on numerous events like the Job Fair, the Education Fair, companies visits, we are in close relationships with universities, schools, and companies.
AS: I love saying that we arrive in the morning with a very well organised planning, and when we check at the end of the day, we did go through the planning, not in the right order, and with a lot of additional things in the middle. (Laughs) It moves a lot, it is important to adapt, to prioritise what is urgent and what is a bit less. The priority is always given to families.
CDM: We encourage parents to be accompanied with their child, but it is not always feasible because of everyone’s schedule.
AS: In majority, over 80% of the meetings we have with parents also include their child.
Can you talk about an important challenge you faced in your job and how you overcame it?
AS: I think we need to go back to Covid. Our work, as we said earlier, is to listen and share; this guidance happens daily in our office. When Covid hit and the school closed, the challenge was to ask ourselves how we would reorganise our way of working with students, in full class and in individual settings, without losing any quality so that each student could still benefit from our support. With the distance, we had to handle different time zones, because some students had returned to Europe. This was a challenge we took on as a team, to elaborate a strategy, which we were able to use again last year. (Laughs) Our days were no longer standard; they would start at 8 a.m. for the students who were here and would go on until the middle of the evening for those who were in France or elsewhere in Europe.
Choosing a course sometimes means changing a course. Tell us an example of a course change you had to follow and explain us how you supported the student and his/her family in this challenging process.
CDM: We had the case of a student who chose to go to a Business School. The first year didn’t go well, so the student decided to change school for the second year. It didn’t go well either. We thus had to dig deeper to know what the student was truly interested in. We had several discussions with the child and the parents. The student ended up changing his path of studies and joined musical production, in which he completely thrived. Sometimes, artistic courses are not necessarily accepted by families at first, who prefer a more standard course of studies.
AS: It really concerns families. This student certainly wanted to make his parents happy, he tried one year, then a second year, and after numerous conversations and a huge work done on self-awareness, we found a compromise with the parents, and the student was able to personally thrive. When students are happy where they are, they naturally flourish. If we have to summarise it, the difficult questions of course change often happen with students who are not invested in their course research, but who have precise ideas. “I want to do a Business School”, but with a low level of implication, few research on the programme, on how it is, and once they are there, they realise it is not what they had imagined. When this happens, they often get back to us, telling us they have evolved and are not happy where they are, and ask for our help to prepare new applications. Often as well, we have students coming back to us after their first university diploma to get an insight on what could be next for them.
While students are in High School, we work on making them realise their qualities, their personalities, and capacities. We often find a compromise between their ambitions and the realities of higher education.
CDM: Even if their school results are average at first, we must let them go until the end of the process, try, and realise things by themselves so they can become who they really want to be. There are no strict rules.
Can you give one of the best memories in your job?
CDM: The memories I cherish the most are those of the Graduation ceremonies when each student has at least one admission somewhere and is ready to start a new chapter. It’s always moving to see them then.
AS: When they are awarded with their diploma, we realise the real work we have all put in place, teachers, administrative supports, those who accompany them during exams, we have a clear picture of the work done to enable them to continue their journey towards higher education and the adult each of them will be tomorrow.
What impresses you the most with our students ?
CDM: Each student is unique with his/her own personality.
AS: Students have a lot of resources and agility to juggle between the different courses offered in higher education, whether in France or abroad, and most of them are succeeding in these different courses. I think it is thanks to the specificities of the French education, this critical mind we make them develop, this sense of analysis, and rigor, those are real skills which will remain useful in the future.
Which actions you put in place are you the proudest of?
AS: What is the most satisfying daily, is that students feel relaxed in our office, they want to come see us. For instance, for Grade 12, we don’t require mandatory meetings, and yet, these students regularly ask to see us, whether they are the best students or the ones struggling. The events we put in place are a real pillar of information for the whole High School, they work really well.
How do you like spending your free time?
AS: I love spending time with my friends, and to recharge my batteries, I seek green space and regularly practice horse-riding.
CDM: I do a lot of sports, I practice football, tennis, and badminton. Shanghai is a city which never sleeps, I love discovering new restaurants and nice spots.
AS: Shanghai without Covid is extraordinary! (Laughs)