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ESF The First 50 Years - People stories

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English Schools Foundation

A picture-perfect ending

ESF alumnus: Mark Woodward

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 June, 2017, 11:25am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 June, 2017, 11:25am

[Sponsored article] It is 9 pm in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Mark Woodward has just gotten back from a whole day of photographing horses in the desert. Having worked for news outlets, private organisations and not-for-profits, the freelance photojournalist has been finding much work documenting the state of US-Mexico border relations.

Born in Hong Kong to parents from the US and the UK, Mark first attended Kennedy School, which was just down the road from their Pokfulam home, before attending West Island School (WIS) for secondary school.

“We went to ESF schools because we always knew that we were going to study overseas,” says Mark, whose brother now lives in London.

The many years he spent in the two ESF schools deeply influenced him and was instrumental in helping him discover his passions early on. He was only 16 when he went on a school-organised service trip to Laos to build a school and teach English, and found that he just could not stop experimenting with his camera the entire time. 

“That was the first time I really used photography and fell in love with telling stories through pictures,” explains Mark. Later, he narrowed his interests down to socio-political photography, and credited WIS with helping him realise the talent he has for the art form.

Parsons, The New School for Design, in New York, is one of the most revered art and design schools globally, and unsurprisingly has a very stringent admissions process. It included creating an artist’s statement, a personal essay around 2,000 words long, and a portfolio of 12 to 20 photos, with descriptions of what was behind the pictures.

“The teachers helped me introduce certain themes and ideas to show who I was as a person and what made me curious,” says Mark. “They helped me to realise these things talked about it with me a lot. It wasn’t just the arts teachers giving me inspiration, but all of them.”

Mark was the first person in his family to apply to an art school, so getting into Parsons certainly vindicated his choice of career paths.

He does have some regrets from his time in Hong Kong, however. “I lived in Hong Kong for 18 years and never learnt Cantonese,” explains Mark. “I wish I had spent more time studying the language, it would be super helpful for my career now.”

Although he established a photo club in school, Mark wishes that he had put more time and effort into it and gotten his teachers more involved, as he believes he could have learned a lot more from them. He encourages today’s students to talk to their teachers more and receive inspiration from them as he did. 

Mark believes that attending an ESF school and studying the IB Diploma can open many doors. He also thinks ESF develops well-rounded and thoughtful citizens, who are internationally aware not just because of the cultural diversity you find at schools like WIS, but also because of the ESF ethos.

“They teach understanding, moral awareness and even morals of information, such as solid background research and showing both sides of a story,” explains Mark, adding, “As tough as it was at the time, I would do the IB again. I remember, at university I felt I was capable and ready because of the structure the IB put in me.”

The friendships Mark formed with those he attended school with remain strong. He was recently the best man at an ESF friend’s wedding and works with some friends who are in publication industries in Hong Kong.

His American friends don’t understand how his old connections to home are so strong that he is willing to get up in the middle of the night to check on messages his Hong Kong friends. For Mark, it is simply “because it is important.”