A Coffee with Pamela Kelly Wetzell


“Pamela Kelly Wetzell is the Head of University Advising at United World College of South East Asia in Singapore.”


Today I was joined for coffee by Pamela Kelly Wetzell who took time out from her work as Head of University Advising at United World College of South East Asia (UWCSEA) East Campus, Singapore to answer my questions. Her temporary move to Thailand has resulted in her spending twenty years in Asia.

Hi Pamela, how do you take your coffee?

I never used to drink coffee, but lately I have taken to having one skinny cappuccino at about 10am each morning.  

It must have been a difficult decision to move continents. What was the deciding factor?

My interest in travel was sparked at the age of 19, when I backpacked through Europe with a friend for a summer. After graduating from college, I backpacked again throughout Asia Pacific for what started out as a six-month trip but ended up lasting more than two and a half years, including a year teaching English in Japan. I cannot say enough about how much my “gap” time changed my view of the world, and of myself. I returned to the US and went to law school in California. After I had been practising law for a few years, my husband was offered a job in Thailand, and I jumped at the chance to live abroad again. Of course, at the time, I thought the move would be temporary, but that was 20 years ago now.

I see that you set up an international school in Thailand. What took you from that to becoming a counsellor?

My interest in education was truly based on necessity. In the 1990s in Phuket there were very limited options for English-based education so together with some friends I started a preschool for our children and their friends, which grew over the years into a primary and middle school. When my oldest daughter became a teenager, I thought I should learn something about college admissions so I enrolled in the UCLA College Counselling Certificate course, which was available online. In order to complete the certification, I was intern at UWCSEA in Singapore. After moving full-time to Singapore, I was lucky enough to be hired as a University Advisor.

Tell us about your work. What is on your desk at the moment?

My colleagues and I have just finished meeting with every Grade 10 student to talk about their IB subject choices and university considerations. We are planning upcoming workshops to help teachers write letters of recommendations for US applicants, hosting visits by university representatives, and trying to match students with summer internships. I’m also writing an article for a local magazine for younger high school students and families on how to make the most of their summer.

What would you say are the biggest challenges in your role?

Students are increasingly looking at multiple country destinations, with different offerings, admissions criteria and application cycles. Helping global nomads to forge a worldwide strategy when they are open to just about any opportunity is a challenge but one I really enjoy because I learn something new every day.

Which is the most rewarding part of your job?

The people! Our school has students from over 65 countries and it is really fun to work with young people from all over the world. I also have really great colleagues who make it a pleasure to come to work every day.

What are the most important factors students should consider when deciding which country to study in?

One important factor is knowing whether you are ready to concentrate your university studies on a single subject or would prefer to start broadly before specialising. Another factor is the relative cost of a university education abroad compared to a country where you might have home fee status. For those looking for professional degrees, e.g. medicine or law, having an idea of what country you may want to practise in may impact where you will want to apply.  

How do you balance the demands of your work and your family life?

My youngest daughter just recently headed to university so I am enjoying my newfound status as an empty nester.

What do you do when you have some free time?

I recently managed to reach my goal of seeing all the movies nominated for Best Picture before the Academy Awards were held. I love to travel, but I can also be found at various Quiz Nights in local restaurants, or walking in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Pamela Kelly Wetzell is Head of University Advising at UWCSEA, East Campus, Singapore.  Previously she set up an independent school in Thailand.   She has several years experience working with students who want to study in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Asia and Europe. 

Questions written by Gill Balfour, Editor and Counsellor Liaison