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Our History: The ISB Story

Our History


An International School is Born

The International School of Pusan opened in September 1983 with 12 children in Kindergarten and Elementary School, and two teachers (the first Head of School, Mr. Tracey and the first teacher, Ms. Tracey). The school shared a building in Haeundae with a Korean Preschool.


The student body grew steadily to around 60 children and in 1986 the school moved from Banyeo-dong to a renovated building in the Choryang area. David Taylor was appointed as Head of School and more teachers were hired. The school maintained a close relationship with the Baptist Mission and Hospital. In 1988 Korea hosted the Olympic games and ISP followed suit with a special mini-Olympics event.


Accreditation and Financial Crisis

In the early 1990s, the school became a member of the European Council of International Schools and received accreditation from this major international education organisation in 1994. The Heads of School during the 1990s were Mark Gifford, Allan Darby, Peter Gotts and Hugh Younger. 

In the beginning of 1994, the Choryang building lease ended and the school moved to school facilities provided by Tong Myong University. In the mid-1990s, the Asian Financial Crisis (related to the International Monetary Fund) hit the Korean economy and affected the school with many expatriates leaving Korea. Peter Gotts was appointed as the Head of School in 1996 followed by Hugh Younger in 1998. 

On April 14th, 1999 the first work began on a new site for the school. The new school on Dalmaji Hill opened its doors for students on September 2nd and the grand opening took place on October 22nd, 1999.


The Dalmaji Years

Ian Woodfield was the Head of School as ISB moved into the new millenium with Stephen Palmer taking over as the Head of School in 2002. The school’s starting enrolment at this time had increased to 72. Soon the school had outgrown the premises and, in 2006, a separate Early Learning Centre (that incorporated train carriages!) was opened. 2006 also saw the introduction of the IGCSE programme. 


In 2008, ISB gained authorization to offer the IB Diploma Programme and in 2009, ISB became only the second school in Korea to achieve authorization to offer the IB Primary Years Programme. 


2009 was a year of uncertainty and success as ISB presented a bid to the Busan Metropolitan City (BMC) to operate a new, purpose-built, city-owned, international school located in Gijang. The USD $43,000,000 investment by the BMC was intended to attract foreign investment to Busan by ensuring that foreign companies had a high quality, non-profit, international school to send their children to. ISB was awarded the contract by the BMC with the new management contract signed in November 2009 by Board Chair and former honorary consul of Norway in Busan, Tore Jacobsen. As part of the bidding process and award, the ISB Board of Governors were required to dissolve the existing school entity, re-registering it as Busan International Foreign School (BIFS).


The BIFS Years

ISB closed its doors for the final time on Dalmaji Hill on the 23rd June and BIFS officially opened on August 23rd, 2010. The new campus made an incredible difference to how the school could deliver its curriculum and BIFS fast expanded its reputation both within and outside of Korea. Student numbers grew steadily with around 300 students from Nursery to Grade 12 and around 50 teachers. ISB extended the management contract with the BMC to manage the school for a further five years in 2014.


Kevin Baker was also appointed as the new Head of School in 2014 and BIFS became a three programme IB Continuum School after successful MYP authorization in 2015. Student numbers briefly reached the 500 mark during the 2014-2015 academic year, but during 2016, the downturn in oil prices started to affect the local economy and this in turn led to a reduction in the school population. 


In 2018, the decision was made to revert to the original school name in order to address confusion in the market and emphasize our standing as the longest established international school in Busan. The new school logo was also launched in our 35th anniversary year, including elements of the Korean flag representing our long history in Busan. 

Simon McCloskey took over as the new Head of School in August 2019 as the school, once again, opened its doors as the International School of Busan.


Overcoming the challenges

of a global pandemic

The first case of COVID-19 was announced in Korea on 20th January 2020. To reduce transmission of this new virus, the school community began operating a virtual learning environment. Students were able to return to school three months later and fortunately remained largely on-campus for the remainder of the pandemic. Face masks and hand sanitizing became a new feature of school life.


In January 2020 a new five year contract to manage the school for the BMC was successfully secured after a bidding and evaluation process. 

In January 2021, following an evaluation visit, the school was successfully re-authorized to offer all three IB programmes and re-accredited by WASC.

New guiding statements were also launched in 2021 following a collaborative process involving all members of the ISB learning community. The guiding statements provide the school with strategic direction for continued development and improvement. They help to define the kind of school we are and the direction we are taking.

In 2023, the school celebrated its 40th anniversary! Now with 350 students and 50 teachers from across the globe, we continue to be the school of choice for internationally-minded families seeking a quality IB education in Busan. We remain truly international – with staff and students representing over 40 nationalities.

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