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Nanjing International School
Nanjing International School
Nanjing International School

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Nanjing International School

Meet Dr. Iryna Shuvalova, Our New College Counsellor

Dr. Iryna Shuvalova is Nanjing International School’s new University Counsellor. She holds a doctorate from St. John’s College, University of Cambridge, and a master’s degree from Dartmouth College. Before joining NIS, she worked in counselling roles at RDFZ King’s College School in Hangzhou, and Golden Path Academics in Vietnam, and at her own company, Shuvalova Admissions Consulting Services.   

How did you get into counselling? Tell us about your professional journey to become one of our new college counsellors.

Eleven years ago, I had about five years of working as a journalist under my belt when a friend suggested I try a new field – graduate admissions counselling. That was the first time I heard about this type of role and was hesitant at first. However, my friend insisted the job would be a good fit for me: “You like working with people, strategizing, and getting the message through. You’ll love doing this.” And she was right.

I remember my very first student getting an offer from their first-choice school, and the thrill I felt from realizing that I had just helped that person make one of the most important steps in their life. Many students and many, many offers of admission later, that thrill never gets old. Since then, I have worked as a counsellor with private firms, in a school setting, and even ran my own small counselling business. From graduate admissions, I have shifted to supporting undergraduate applicants. My students’ geography grew from Europe to North America and Asia. Collectively, they secured offers from most of the world’s top schools. And still, every time my student receives the good news, I am just as overjoyed with them, just as I was that very first time, eleven years ago.

What is your personal philosophy about school counselling? 

I really care about my students and their outcomes. This is not the kind of work one can do mechanically, just by going through the motions. Counselling is about building relationships with your students, establishing trust, and investing yourself into that common goal. That’s not an easy task – and it can be exhausting at times, but for me, it’s what, in the end, makes the job so rewarding. I genuinely enjoy working with young adults. Perhaps I remember all too well how, at that age, I myself sometimes felt overwhelmed by the need to make big, important decisions that would determine my future. I hope that my role today helps my students feel not overwhelmed, but confident and excited.

I also think of the counselling process as a partnership. It is crucially important for me to get to know my students well, listen to them, and understand them. Instead of pushing my vision of what their future should be like, I help them to develop a vision of their own. Too often, especially when working in a private setting, I have seen people’s goals hijacked by less scrupulous counsellors who thought they knew what was best for their clients. My approach with my students is the opposite of that. I know that the more agency and ownership my student has when preparing for their university admissions, the more likely they will be to choose the right post-secondary path and to thrive as a result.

How do you aim to enrich the lives of our students? 

My main goal, of course, is to make sure that they make the right choices about their future and get admitted to their dream schools. However, when working with the students, I also hope to share my experience of living and studying in different parts of the world, working in different fields, connecting with people from all walks of life, and being prepared to ride the wave of change, where necessary, without fear, but with a sense of anticipation.

What advice do you have for Secondary School students who are starting to think about university or preparing to apply? 

It might seem like contradictory advice, but you need to do two things: be practical – but, at the same time, let yourself dream. Without dreams, ambitions, and inspiration, we will never go far enough, fly high enough. Without being practical about setting the goals based on our dreams, we risk never achieving what we aim for. These two things don’t need to be at odds with each other. Dream big, then carefully construct a feasible plan for making those big dreams come true, and start working hard on it until your project becomes a reality.

Tell us a bit about yourself. What are your hobbies and passions?

I’m endlessly interested in the world around me, and I explore it by various means. I write and publish what I wrote – both poetry and prose. I garden where I can: passionately, if not always effectively. I used to work with clay and would like to do pottery again one day. I like books, music, film, and art: you can always talk to me about those. I am particularly fond of East Asian cinema – especially the work of my three favourite film directors: Jia Zhangke, Lee Chang-dong, and Hirokazu Koreeda.

I also walk a lot, and my dream is to do some of those long-distance walks where you keep moving for weeks and (hopefully!) end up covering several hundred kilometres. There is a famous Shinkoku Pilgrimage in Japan where pilgrims visit 88 temples, and there’s Via de la Plata, one of the Spanish ‘caminos’ that crosses the whole country from south to north. One day, I hope to do both.

What message do you have for our NIS community?

I have taught in China before and have fallen in love with the country and the people. I’m delighted to be coming back – especially to a city like Nanjing, rich in history and culture, and to a community like NIS, full of support and inspiration. Although the Coronavirus outbreak has forced me to postpone my physical arrival to China, I have already been made incredibly welcome by the community. Both my daughter and I can’t wait to meet all of you in person.