This fantastic woman, whose work has touched the lives of thousands of Hong Kong families, shares the story of her own amazing family.
For many mums in Hong Kong, Alison Euler is a familiar name. She is the founder of the Baby Buddies Playgroup and Alison’s Letterland. These schools have been offering British Preschool Education in Hong Kong since 1996. Alison’s Letterland started as a Kindergarten in Causeway Bay 23 years ago and was followed by Baby Buddies International Playgroup and Nursery a year later. It now also offers a Bumps to Buddies Club for new mums and tiny tots. Alison talks to us about her incredible journey that began with a chance visit to Hong Kong.
Tell us a little bit about where you were brought up and how you landed in Hong Kong?
I was raised in a small village in Kent called St Margaret’s Bay. I came to Hong Kong after visiting my brother in the Philippines almost 25 years ago and was only planning to stay for a few months. It’s a typical story of many old-time Hong Kongers such as myself!
Were you always interested in early childhood education? Was travelling and living overseas ever part of your plan?
Yes, I always loved being with children from a young age. My mother was a primary school teacher and I grew up with our dining table covered in cut-outs and prep work on a Sunday afternoon. I would assist my mother back then. I studied the National Nursery Examination Board (NNEB), which focuses on early childhood education and well-being.
Living overseas was never an intentional plan. Growing up in a small village, travelling was the best education I ever received. I hope that my children too will travel to discover new places and cultures and learn from the experience.
Tell us how Baby Buddies and Alison’s Letterland started.
I always look back and giggle when I think of the little flat along Caroline Hill Road where it all started. The day before Letterland opened 23 years ago, my mum and I sat on the balcony eating McDonald’s at some ridiculously early hour of the morning, prepping everything for the first day.
Letterland opened its doors on my 25th birthday. I opened with just five students in a residential apartment, that was converted into a kindergarten. I put my heart and soul into it and was rewarded with my classes quickly becoming full. A year later, mamas were asking me if their babies could join Letterland. As we are a licensed Kindergarten and Child Care Centre (for children from 2 to 6 years), I couldn’t accept kids that young, so I converted my living room into the Baby Buddies Playgroup classroom. My mum and I came up with the name Baby Buddies, named after the very popular Telly Tubbies, at that time.
The rest is history! Baby Buddies grew very quickly. We were the first purpose-operated playgroup here. I remember teaching Saturday classes with families, it was just like a big party for all of us – a celebration of learning!
It sounds like your mother was a big influence on you. Has she affected your parenting style?
Oh yes! My mother (a primary school teacher) has always been my inspiration. She still has a major role in my life and my children’s – even from afar, she is the rock of our family. Every time I hear myself, I think: “Oh gosh! That’s my mum speaking!” I’ve always been really loved and that has given me the confidence to do what I have done and to help others.
Any advice for anyone trying to start their own business in Hong Kong?
It’s a cliché but true – find something you love and are passionate about. Whatever you decide to do, your customers will feel if your heart is in your business or not. With so much competition now, it’s important to find something a bit different and to keep reinventing yourself. Never ever give up, always remain humble and grateful for every blessing in your life.
How did you start attracting customers?
Our biggest advertisement has always been word of mouth. We have been successfully providing families in Hong Kong the best in pre-school education for 23 years – that in itself says a lot. I have such an amazing and passionate team to work with. From helpers to senior staff, we work as a family and that’s reflected in the environment we offer.
What’s next for Baby Buddies?
I am quite happy with where we are at the moment. I would like to extend our Bumps to Buddies club, as this is something that I really love. It is great listening to mums and hearing about all the different types of parenting.
I also love the charity work we do. I have recently joined with Young Lives and do a free playgroup every Friday evening for teenage mummies who decided to keep their babies, rather than give them up for adoption. We also do a lot of work with Mother’s Choice. We sponsor children from Mother’s Choice to come to our playgroups, along with children in the bridge project, waiting to be adopted. I hope to have more time for my charity work this year.
A teacher isn’t supposed to have favourites, but are there any students, any success stories, that you are particularly proud of or touched by?
Yes, of course! The very first little girl who walked through my doors is now a solicitor! Some of my best friends in Hong Kong are families from Letterland. In the old days, we would go out for drinks and dinners together. And of course, I have seen their children graduate all the way to universities.
Truthfully, the children that we see get adopted always touches my heart. It’s hard to say goodbye to them, but I know they are going to have an amazing new life ahead of them.
How did you meet Sven? When did you get married and start working together?
I met Sven years ago in the Philippines at a different point in our lives. Sven was working in my brother’s resort. So I had his CV and knew I was in good hands (hehe!). Sven moved to Hong Kong and then started to help me with the website and the technical side to the business, which I am hopeless with! Being German, he also had a natural flair for design and we expanded Baby Buddies together.
When did you decide to adopt? What was the reaction of your family and friends?
Adoption was something we both always wanted to do. There was no different reaction than having a birth child. Just love!
Charlotte is Chinese, Leo is Filipino, you are English and Sven is German – truly multicultural. Is it easy in a city like Hong Kong or do you find you often have to answer uncomfortable questions?
No, Hong Kong is awesome! There are so many different nationalities and mixed-race families, nobody really says or asks anything. Before we adopted Charlotte, we felt there were more stares and some people didn’t think before they said something. But that was 11 years ago. Now, I think there are so many adopted children, children from same-sex marriages, etc. I really don’t think we stand out from the crowd.
For other parents who choose to adopt in Hong Kong, what would your advice be?
Go for it! Don’t be put off by some of the local wording or “ticking off the boxes”. As we all know, paperwork in Hong Kong can be very rigid. Do join Adoptive Families of Hong Kong as they can give you valuable advice.
We adopted Charlotte and Leo when they were three months old, so settling them at home was pretty simple. Adopting older children requires a lot more support and advice as the children need so much comfort to help them to feel secure at home. Again, AFHK is fantastic. They have really great workshops about attachment and what to expect when you’re adopting. Always be 100% honest and open with your children from the day you adopt them.
What’s the most fun, challenging and rewarding part of being a mum to a tween and a young primary schooler?
Just seeing them happy and grow up to be good, kind people! I look at Charlotte now, who is 11, and she has grown up into a lovely young lady (most of the time at least!) and I am so proud of her principled, loving and caring nature. And of course, Leo is still the cutest thing ever! Seeing him thrive at school and make new friends melts my heart – he is still a very innocent and curious little boy!
Challenges…oh, there are so many! We all know that as mamas. Every day we learn something new, we make mistakes, but we find good friends to support us on this journey of parenting. And that is so important. That is what I love about our bumps gatherings, to see mums open up and be real about facing challenges.
How do you balance running a successful business in Causeway Bay and Sheung Wan, with being a mum, living in Discovery Bay?
I’m lucky I have a very hands-on husband and a helper to look after our home which makes a massive difference. I have found (with age!) that I can achieve a lot more work in the early hours of the day, rather than later, which works perfectly with the DB lifestyle and travelling each day.
After a long day, what’s your favourite way to unwind?
Reading with my children and hearing about their days. Hanging out with my husband and occasionally a nice glass of wine!