IT IS A relaxing mid-February afternoon at Australian International School Hong Kong (AISHK) in Kowloon Tong. Youngsters are competing on the football field, parents and teachers are cheering and a hungry few are lining up for the sizzling sausages at a barbecue nearby. They display an energy seldom found in other schools at this time of the year, because for them the new academic year has just begun after a 'summer' holiday that started in mid-December. The school has a unique calendar as it runs an academic programme parallel to that in Australia. AISHK students must proceed with their study programmes at the same pace as their Australian counterparts so that they can sit the public exams in the summer months of October and December in Australia. That is why they go on 'summer vacation' during winter and have classes while most other students head for the pool in summer. The upside of this arrangement is that students from Australia, who make up 65 per cent of the school's more than 800 students, can spend Christmas with their relatives back home. 'It is a good time to be in Australia,' says Carolyn Bickerton, director of development and community relations at AISHK. 'It's summer there, with the sun and the beaches.' Having classes in the local summer heat can be tiring, but there is always an opportunity for a short break: every year students get a few days off because of the typhoons. 'Last year there was only one, which disappointed everybody,' Ms Bickerton says with a laugh. The downside is it makes taking part in large-scale inter-school competitions difficult. Most secondary school competitions organised by the Hong Kong Schools Sports Federation (HKSSF) begin in October and end around March or May, coinciding with the AISHK summer holiday. This can be annoying because Australians are known for their passion for sports. To make up for this, teachers arrange various small-scale inter-school and inter-house tournaments. There are soccer, basketball, netball, rugby and other matches. Whenever possible, they also invite Australian national teams to visit the school. Several soccer tournaments have been arranged with other international schools such as Yew Chung International School and King George V School. Players are confident that they can compete in a bigger league. 'There's better atmosphere [in the joint-school competitions],' Scott Ramsey from Grade Eight says. Soccer coach Phillip O'Connor is also thinking about it, but says it will not happen until 2005. One reason is that the school, which has relocated five times since it was founded about seven years ago, is young. There are few seniors students to join an under-18 Grade A team. 'With a few more years of training, I don't see why we can't (join the league),' O'Connor says. 'Perhaps we can play catch-up after we come back from holiday.' Still, students find the school's unique calendar a nice arrangement. 'We get to go to the cinema and hang out without the big crowd,' says Andrew Vasey of Grade 11. Scott adds: 'And we get to laugh at our friends from other schools because they are in school when we are having fun.' But don't those friends laugh back at them in summer? 'Yes, they do. They sometimes say, 'Ha ha, you're in school',' says Scott. 'But in winter [in Hong Kong], we can go to Australia and sunbathe.'