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.