We are extremely proud of all of our graduating seniors, many of whom have overcome significant personal and academic challenges to get to where they are today. Read on to hear directly from a handful of students, and some mentors, about their high school journey and what lies in store for them next.
After the success of last year's visit to Sidley Austin's Chicago Headquarters, this year's visit was highly anticipated by our students in Chicago.
The morning began with a tour of the building. The students were somewhat surprised to see that the office was equipped with such an array of facilities, including a practice trial room and a fitness suite. For the majority of the students this was their first experience in a corporate environment and they were clearly impressed by what they found inside the tall skyscrapers they sometimes walk past in Downtown Chicago!
After lunch the students heard from a variety of Sidley Austin employees. First, they heard from a litigator and a transactional lawyer about their roles within the firm. While on the surface the focus of the trip was the legal profession this visit also provided a fantastic overview of working in the city. The next presentation featured a panel of four "non-lawyers" working at the firm: an accountant, a tech supervisor, a marketing director and a paralegal. This not only introduced the students to new professions but also highlighted the fact that such a broad range of skills and specialities is required to make a large corporation function.
Throughout the day the students asked a host of questions with Sidley Austin employees commenting on the quality and range of questions. One of our favourite questions was:
"I like spending time with my family, how do you balance work time and family time?"
We would like to thank Sidley Austin for once again welcoming our students to their office for such an informative and enjoyable experience!
Many of our students are regular volunteers at Amsterdam Nursing Home every Sunday, however, this does not generate quite as much excitement as our favourite day of the year, Pie Day. Thus with Pie Day still seven months away we decided it was time for another large-scale community service project. Our Community Service Super Sunday featured not one, but three community service opportunities for our students with many students participating in multiple events throughout the day.
The day kicked off preparing brunch at Grand Central Neighborhood Shelter. Preparing brunch has long been a favorite event in the Project Rousseau calendar and many students were delighted to return to the kitchen. Over the course of the morning everyone worked together to make a delicious brunch of scrambled eggs, bacon, turkey sausages and waffles.
While volunteering the students also take the time to talk to the clients of the shelter and through these conversations they learn about the many problems facing the homeless in NYC. Many were particularly interested to learn that those they were serving also shared their academic interests and aspirations, including one resident who was returning to her degree at Columbia University!
While some students prepared brunch others carried out our regular community service offering at Amsterdam Nursing Home. Eager not to let the residents, many of whom have become good friends, down they provided our usual Sunday morning entertainment of board games and conversation.
Our two groups then converged at Project Rousseau's office to participate in a partnership with the "Little French Books" project, with one twist, our books would be written in English! The aim of this project is for the students to write their own picture books to send to children in need in developing countries, in this case to our good friends at AMAF School just outside of Nairobi, Kenya. Throughout the afternoon our students worked in small groups to develop culturally appropriate storylines for their books, ideas ranged from alternative uses for yams to the animals of the savannah working together to solve a problem!
Community Service Super Sunday certainly reinforced to our students that there are many ways in which they can work together to improve the lives of others both in their local communities and further afield! In total, 164 hours of Community Service was completed in one day alone and we look forward to expanding our range of community service offerings in the future to continue to enrich the lives of others whilst developing key skills and learning about ourselves.
“Copenhagen feels like a second home and everyone is so welcoming”
Indeed, this is a sentiment shared by many Project Rousseau students who have been fortunate enough to be treated to the warm welcome of our longest standing partner school, Rysensteen Gymnasium in Copenhagen. This year, our fourth visit, was no different and the group had a wonderful stay in Copenhagen learning a great deal about Danish society and history whilst making a number of new friends in the process.
Arriving over the weekend meant the students had the opportunity to explore the city and to get to know their hosts. Jet lag soon went out of the window and, despite this being the first trip outside of the U.S.A. for the majority of the group, the Project Rousseau students soon acclimatized to their new surroundings.
Monday soon rolled around and both Rysensteen and Project Rousseau students were back in class. For the Project Rousseau students the concept of calling teachers by their first name, using laptops in class and being allowed to work freely in groups was extremely novel and exciting. That said, all still worked extremely hard in class and contributed to the lively classroom discussions. Thanks to Rysensteen’s special Global Citizenship Program the topics covered in class were also particularly relevant to the visit of the U.S. students, ranging from the Harlem Renaissance to using social media in a global context. The Rysensteen students also complemented their U.S. History studies by asking Project Rousseau students which historical events they felt were the most influential in shaping the country; the answers offered were very different to those of the Danish students textbooks!
Outside of class the students continued to learn a great deal. This included visiting the Cathedral and Viking Ship Museum at Roskilde to appreciate the history of Denmark. We also spent a day at Louisiana including a fantastic tour of William Kentridge’s new exhibition their focusing on humanity and perceptions of time. Throughout the tour the students offered insightful comments on what they were seeing which was heavily based on apartheid in South Africa.
In Copenhagen we focused on the local history in the Middle Ages and this was a somewhat stark contrast to what the students experienced during our short trip to Berlin whilst in Europe. Here, our students gained a rapid but in-depth glimpse into life both during World War II and in the years that followed as Berlin became a divided city. In just three days the students visited over eight museums and monuments piecing together the recent history of the city with great maturity.
Upon our return to Copenhagen we managed to gain a theoretical understanding of our insights into Danish culture by attending Morten Warmind’s class “Aspects and Contexts of Danish Society” at the University of Copenhagen. Undeterred by being the youngest in the class Project Rousseau students contributed greatly to the class sharing their experiences from their host families. Of particular note in the class was the importance of evening meals to Danish families and our students all commented how they too had experienced this. Indeed, many of our students noted how much they enjoyed these meals and how much they had learned from their host parents over dinner.
When asked on the last day for feedback on the trip a common theme was “Can we spend more time with each other without scheduled activities please?!”. From family meals together to many evenings spent playing board games at the Absalon community center our students, clearly, all of the students had a wonderful time with their hosts and their families. And, once again we are extremely grateful to the Rysensteen students, their families and their teachers for welcoming us with such warmth and hospitality.
We took our third trip this academic year to Montreal in late March. For many students this was their first time visiting a college campus and thanks to the generosity, once again, of McGill University they certainly gained an in-depth insight in to student life. We believe that experiences such as eating in a campus dining hall and sitting in on a freshmen class not only inspire students to work harder to get to college but allow them to feel more confident when they do get to college. Through visiting McGill University our students are also exposed to new programs that they may not have previously considered, particularly after visiting the beautiful Macdonald Campus outside of town.
Our latest trip to Montreal also allowed us to expand our Broadening Horizons programming. We , firstly, visited the Pointe-à-Callière museum to learn more about the history of Montreal. This certainly meant that afterwards, as we explored Old Montreal (despite the bitterly cold weather), our students had a much greater understanding of the French and British influences they saw around the city. Another clear highlight of the trip was our visit to the Marc Chagall exhibition at the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Through this visit we not only acquired a greater appreciation of his art but also about how the changing world around him influenced him, and importantly, how his creativity expanded to music, poetry and costume design not just fine art.
Once again, Project Rousseau students left Montreal with a strong desire to return. The warm welcome we receive each time certainly shows them that this is an internationally-minded and cosmopolitan city that they would thrive in whilst at college.
“The driven minds of the people that I met in Chicago or in Houston, and who are a part of Project Rousseau, have encouraged me to work harder, to be the best I can be, academically, and as a person.”
On the 4th-7th of March 2017 Project Rousseau sent three students from our Houston Chapter to Chicago for four interesting days, packed with activities. The trip was a part of our Broadening Horizons pillar, aiming to open their eyes further by exposing them to environments and opportunities outside of their everyday life.
Throughout their days in Chicago, the students got to visit academic, cultural and entertaining sights and places. Our students got explore the life of a UChicago student, both through a tour of the campus and participation in classes on campus. With an inside experience of the school, our students became not only more informed about their opportunities and ways to achieve these, but also broadened the range of universities our students considered and help them to feel more secure about taking possibilities - also outside their home state, Texas:
“I was considering universities close to home because I was nervous, and didn't really think big or outside of the box. Now, I can say that there is a possibility of me choosing the University of Chicago.”
A big part of the program is also the cultural and personal development outside of the classroom. Luckily, Chicago has many cultural experiences we could take advantage of. The Smart Museum of Art at University of Chicago was a great opportunity for our students to also see other sides of education than the classic academical ways. Other cultural experiences to add to the students experience in Chicago is the Mandel Hall symphony and amusement such as the Art Institute, a visit to the Navy Pier, and a visit to the Skydeck in Willis Tower.
With a trip like this, the students got to not only experience and explore a city different from their hometown, but also open their eyes to a world that in generally bigger than what they’d imagined before this trip.
One of the students described the trip as:
“opening my eyes and made me realize the world is a big place, and if I ever get the chance I'd like to travel to more places. Being in PR has made a huge impact on my life I would've never traveled outside of Texas if I hadn't been in this project.”
Each year since 1976 our partner school, the United Nations International School (UNIS) has hosted their UNIS-UN Conference at the United Nations General Assembly. This year some of our Project Rousseau students were very grateful to receive invites. UNIS students have been an invaluable resource for our students providing weekly tutoring across a range of subjects; this invite highlighted how special this partnership is to both parties.
The 2017 conference centered on the topic “Migration: Crossing the Line” and featured a broad range of speakers including Angy Rivera, an advocate for undocumented immigrants’ rights who was undocumented herself for much of her early life and Selcuk Sirin, J. K. Javits Professor at New York University. Our students attentively listened to all the speakers and by the second day had the confidence to pose some very thought-provoking questions to the speakers. The student-led debates added a fascinating dynamic to the conference: hearing the views of peers from over 25 countries was an enlightening experience for all.
The range of countries represented was without a doubt a highlight for our students. They enjoyed the fantastic opportunity to learn about living in other countries over a shared lunch, in the UN Delegates’ Dining Room no less, with students from places such as Bermuda, Japan and France. We were also delighted to bump into our partner school from Switzerland, Institut Florimont, whose delegation coincidentally included one of our exchange hosts from January!
Finally, it would be remiss not to mention the amazing setting for the conference: the UN General Assembly. Seated at the back of the room, in the seats usually occupied by Yemen’s representatives, we had the chance to take in many aspects of the space. Now, our students can comfortably point out where the interpreters sit and the languages they specialize in and had great fun finding where their family’s country would sit.
We would like to extend a huge thank you to UNIS for allowing us to participate in such a special experience and for their continued support.
The highlight of February was undoubtedly Project Rousseau’s inaugural Japanese exchange with schools in Tokyo and Kyoto.
Our students began their stay in Tokyo with our partner school, K-International School (K-IST). Whilst in Tokyo the group visited various cultural highlights such as the Imperial Palace, various temples and the Miraikan Museum of Science. After a few days the group then took the notorious “Bullet Train” to Kyoto and our partner school Gaidai Nishi High School where they continued to take in their surroundings, visiting the Gion District, Arashiyma bamboo forest and more sacred sites.
Perhaps most enriching for students on this trip however was learning about the profound cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan. Over the week the students learnt to navigate these contrasts and gained both an appreciation and an understanding of Japanese traditions. Certainly, staying with host families and attending school with their host siblings heightened this experience and all of the students commented that it was through their hosts that they learned the most about their new surroundings. From gender roles in the household to the lives of teenagers, our students picked up on various cultural differences and all now agree that they are more culturally aware. In particular, Kathy commented that whilst she has “always wanted to know more about the world, I’d never previously pushed myself to do it”. Students were also surprised at how easy it was to manage in a foreign country. With great insight, they attributed this to Japan’s welcoming attitude towards newcomers and in particular their hosts’ generosity and hospitality. As a result, Project Rousseau students are determined to return to Japan in the future, and have found themselves considering an option they never before thought possible: studying abroad. Spending time in both Kyoto and Tokyo also allowed our students to refine their new found understanding of Japanese culture as they began to notice similarities and differences between the two cities and their takes on modernity.
The students also spent time in the classroom at our partner schools. From language lessons to earthquake safety simulations, our students fully embraced being thrown into the deep end at a Japanese high school. An overriding sentiment of the group is the warmth which they were welcomed by the students in Japan. Indeed, there was without a doubt a lot of bilateral learning going on as the Japanese students quizzed their new Project Rousseau friends about life back in the U.S. and in particular their Hispanic culture.
Preparing for our first trip to Asia was a substantial task for both Project Rousseau staff and students and we would like to extend a huge thank you to our Japanese partner schools and host families for their hospitality and help before, during and after our trip. We are already planning our future collaborations and look forward to more Project Rousseau, K-IST and Gaidai Nishi students meeting and exchanging ideas in the near future.
One of our targets for 2017 is to send 100 students abroad. We started work on this goal just nine days into the new year visiting not one but two countries.
Our London exchange has become a firm favorite on our calendar and our students are always amazed by what they can learn in a city that on the surface is not too dissimilar to home. This year we added a two new partner schools to our visit, City of London School for Boys and Institut Florimont. Another added dimension to this trip was an excursion to Geneva for some of the students, our Spinoza Scholars, to participate in the Spinoza Foundations annual conference alongside the World Economic Forum.
Looking back now the students admit that they were, understandably, far more nervous about meeting their hosts than they let on. Now, they also all agree that these nerves were soon cast aside as they were warmly welcomed into their hosts’ homes. Indeed, an overriding sentiment from all students is how much they enjoyed their home-stays and that it was through their hosts that they learnt the most. From an insight into Jewish family life, embracing the atmosphere at Watford F.C. and learning to navigate a three-course dinner our students certainly will never forget their time with their hosts in both London and Geneva. We are extremely grateful to our hosts for their hospitality and most importantly support for our students as they embraced these new experiences. As one of our students remarked: “they don’t just see us as the poor kids but as part of their family!”.
Another key aspect of our trip was spending time in class at our partner schools. In just a few days students visited four different schools and with each learned much more than the content of the class they were in (although of course that was extremely interesting too!). Whether it was tackling an A-Level Russian class, spending time in the Sixth Form Common Room (splitting time between playing pool and reading the newspapers!) or pointing out differences in Swiss students’ debating style compared to back home Tennessee our students really did maximize every learning opportunity our partner schools kindly gave them. Perhaps most notable was how inspired our students were by the behavior, camaraderie and work ethic of their new friends. Upon return, many have commented that they hope to incorporate these attitudes into their own lives back in the US.
Of course, a Broadening Horizons trip is not complete without some cultural excursions! This trip included visits to the Churchill War Rooms, listening to a debate in the Houses of Parliament and watching a play in the West End. This trip fell at a turbulent political time for both Great Britain and the United States and our experiences in London and Geneva allowed us to contextualize what we hear in the news, form our own opinions and learn from historical examples. The Geneva group also got to hear insights from world experts on the current political and economic climate and we are extremely grateful to the Spinoza Foundation for providing such a fascinating experience for our students. We also squeezed in a day trip to Oxford and took a private tour of New College with a very special tour guide - the Warden, Miles Young, of the college.
Once again our trip to London and Geneva provided firm evidence to support our belief that an international exchange is one of the most valuable experience a high school student can have. These trips continue to broaden our students’ knowledge and understanding of new countries and cultures as well as developing many other key skills which will be critical to their future success.
As we welcome in the New Year we would like to reflect on an extremely successful 2016. We are extremely grateful to our supporters, partner organizations and volunteers for all that they do for us. The extraordinary success of 2016 for our students would most definitely not have been possible without their continued support. We invite you to view our annual report which summarizes some of our highlights of the year.