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Cambodia Service Project

Monday 16th January 2017

“The next day was the day we began what we can now call an unforgettable experience.”

Last October while Aiglon was hosting the Round Square International Conference many of our students went out on trips around the world. Some of these were service trips, special expeditions undertaken and funded by students to help people around the world, but to also gain a wider understanding of a world that exists outside their own.

Service is one of the main pathways through which Aiglon students live out the School’s Guiding Principles. Sometimes our service projects are focused locally, and at other times they are spread around the world. However, no matter the scale of the trip we find it important to take the time to learn and share from these experiences.

Last week, at Aiglon’s first culture of the term, a number of these students reported on their trip to Cambodia. What follows are excerpts of how some of the student’s described their experiences and what they learned throughout the trip.

“Our major purpose on this trip was contribution to the Bang Malea Camp. This involved physical labour, as well as teaching children. There was a rotation between the physical work and teaching throughout the eleven of us in order for everyone to do both. Teaching was something that a few of us have done before, but I think we can agree that every time was so different. The children that we taught at the orphanage were so excited and eager to learn, despite their environment. Even though for many their English was not strong, that did not stop them from spending hours with us just so they could learn it properly.”

“At first we were a little bit shell shocked by the conditions we were going to be living in, which included the compost toilets, cold showers, no roofs and the long houses with mosquito nets and no walls. I can personally say it was tough at first, and it was nothing like I’ve ever experienced before, but over time we got used to it and it wasn’t that bad at all.”

“The work consisted of, mixing cement, plastering walls, gardening, creating compost, making bricks, and setting up the base of a soon to be building. The manual labor was one of the most exhausting and challenging things we’ve ever done. Not only was it a lot of effort, but doing it in extremely humid and hot weather did not make it any easier.”

"After spending five days at the camp, it was time to leave. That morning we said goodbye to the staff, teachers and Mr. Han, the man who made all of this possible. We saw the students running down the road to say their last goodbyes. I can honestly say it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The girls were crying, collecting flowers, and giving out letters to some of us in so we don’t forget them.”

“The next two days we spent in the jungle, enjoying a few long hikes, a visit to the waterfall, discovering incredible wildlife, and sightseeing the famous lying Buddha. We spent the night in tents inside an open- air temple. No one really knew what to expect or what it would be like. After watching the beautiful sunset overlooking the jungle, we had a meditation session with one of the monks.”

View more photos of the service trip here.

Photos by Emma Godfrey

From the Magazine: Leaders

Thursday 12th January 2017

Where they go, others follow. When they speak, people act. What they do affects many. Leaders stand out in a crowd, but what is it that makes them different? Aiglonian leaders from around the world share their stories.

When John Elink-Schuurman (Belvedere, 1984), began his professional career, working for software startup mPortal in the USA, his manager walked in one day and announced: “I need 10 people to pack up and move to India for a year and you need to be there in the next three weeks.” For John, there was no hesitation. He raised his hand and announced: “I’ll go” – and he did: he packed up his belongings and spent a year in Mumbai.

“My first set of roommates at Aiglon included boys from Swaziland, Iran and Peru,” remembers John, now Manager of the Virginia Leaders in Export Trade (VALET) Programme at Virginia Economic Development Partnership, which supports and encourages Virginia businesses to trade internationally. “If this diversity of nationalities sparked one thing in me which has been a theme throughout my career, it’s a curiosity to always try to understand more and learn more. In the business world, that’s a huge advantage – though, of course, I didn’t recognize that at the time.”

How important is an international education in helping to develop global leaders? In the 21st century, having a global outlook is essential, not nice-to-have. Travelling from country to country is barely worthy of comment. John remembers how exotic expeditions to France and Germany seemed back in the 1970s, while today’s Aiglon students regularly travel anywhere from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro to refugee schools in Thailand. Apple, Google and Facebook span the globe, we can buy products from Russia or Skype colleagues in South Africa with a single click.

However, these are bewilderingly rapid changes, and simply living in a global world doesn’t necessarily mean having a global outlook: sending a funny tweet to a stranger in Mumbai is very different from closing a multi-million-dollar deal with her company. That’s where the qualities gained through an international education come in.

Leadership, is, of course, many things to many people, but most would agree that good leaders are also good communicators. “People these days are much better travelled,” says Pamela Bates (Clairmont, 1985), who formerly served as a US diplomat in Brazil and is now economic and commercial officer for multilateral trade at the US Department of State. “But there are global connections in many industries that would not have been there in the past, and for that to all work well, you have to be able to communicate across different cultures.”

For Pamela, good leadership requires good communication. “Leadership is about organising a group to reach a common goal. The only way to do that is if you have effective and clear communication in the group. You have to understand people’s interests, concerns, objectives and whether they share the objectives of the common goal. An international education brings that.”

It’s not just about being able to speak the same language, either, though that certainly helps, but also interpreting something more esoteric: a mood, perhaps, or a level of interest. In the US, the common language tends to be sports teams, while in the UK, the weather might be the way you fill that gap between participants on a conference call.

For example, Pamela relates the story of an emphatic difference between Finns and Americans which she learned from a Finnish colleague: if something is important, a Finn will usually say it just once, “and you’re supposed to know that it’s important,” she says. “But in the US, we tend to repeat something if we think it’s important. In an international school, you pick up on the different cultural habits, even when you’re speaking the same language.”

Pietro Dova (Belvedere, 1980) agrees. Now founding partner at investment company XG Ventures, he was part of the team responsible for the IPO of one of the world’s best-known companies, as Google’s Corporate Controller and Finance Director from 2001 to 2007. “A lot of companies in the US are very self-centred,” he says. “They think about their business in the US first and then, when they try to expand internationally, they don’t necessarily understand the cultural differences as well as they should. I grew up in Italy and understand the culture there. A lot of business stuff in Italy is transacted over lunch. In the US, you just grab a sandwich and get it done – you don’t sit and do it over an hour and a half. You talk business everywhere, not just over lunch. These little cultural nuances matter. It’s about being able to understand your audience.”

Another aspect of leadership, he says, is respect for others and their status, something emphasised during his time at Aiglon. “Table service was the great equaliser,” he remembers. “It didn’t matter if you were a member of a royal family, or just a normal family – you had to wipe down the table and do your chores, whether or not you had 100 people to do that for you at home. That taught us respect for others, and how your status in life is not only determined by what’s handed down to you.”

Of course, when it comes to success in business, there are plenty of other factors at play, as Pietro points out: “Does an international education make you a good business person? That’s a totally different story. You could have all the appreciation in the world for different backgrounds and ethnicities but not be a good business leader.”

Yet there’s an inevitable advantage in being able to identify with people across cultures, as Shuja Jashanmal (Belvedere, 1983) knows first-hand. Few cities better reflect globalisation’s inexorable rise over the last 30 years than Dubai, Shuja’s home city. When he went to Aiglon in 1976, Dubai was a small town with few opportunities. Now, it is the biggest city in the United Arab Emirates, a truly international hub with one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

As a director at international retailers Jashanmal Group, as well as having founded his own ventures, he has witnessed this extraordinary growth first-hand. His education, he says, is one of the factors that drives his business success – even if he didn’t know it at the time.

“After graduating, I was getting involved with the family business and doing deals with the French, Singaporeans, Americans, English. All of sudden, I understood why business was coming my way,” he says. “Those of us with an international education understood how to close deals better than other people. We understand the benefits of being able to speak different languages and understanding other people’s cultures without prejudices. People from different cultures and backgrounds felt comfortable with me. I never realised that my time at Aiglon would give me the upper hand in understanding people so much better than my competitors.”

It is all about relationship-building skills, agrees John. “At the end of the day, people do business with someone they like,” he says. “It’s not because you have the best product, or the cheapest product, or the slickest sales pitch. It’s more fundamental, it’s an emotional appeal. They have to like you and trust you to do business with you, and to trust you they have to like you.”

Knowing how to get them to do that is a process which starts when you first meet your new roommates and realise that, whatever your differences, you’re getting along, right here, right now – and that is something that could make all the difference. Those thousands of tiny negotiations over shelf space or map-reading or which movie to watch have a value: they’re all actually about compromise and understanding. “At Aiglon, you are thrown together and you have to figure out your differences and how to resolve them. And at a pretty young age, too,” says John.

Like John, Shuja had a diverse group of roommates and friends. His closest friends remain those he made at Aiglon and their current addresses are a roll-call of developed and emerging markets: a South African who now lives in San Francisco, an Egyptian and a Canadian living in Saudi Arabia, a Vietnamese woman who lives in Washington DC, and an American in Milan.

He saw friendships across far greater divides than simply language or manners, however. Jewish boys were friends with Muslim boys, black South Africans were friends with white South Africans – and this was in the 1970s, at the height of apartheid, when the two would be highly unlikely to even be able to speak to each other back home. “It was only when I went to university that I realised there were divisions in the world which I wasn’t aware of,” Shuja remembers. “My education allowed me to bridge those divides – without even knowing that they were being bridged.”

Pamela, who attended Aiglon at the height of the Cold War, says that Aiglon brought the rest of the world closer. “We were very aware of what was going on in other parts of the world at the time, such as the war in Lebanon, as there were children there from these places,” she says.

“These are your roommates. You have different backgrounds but you all go through that same experience at Aiglon. And perhaps an international education helps you realise that actually, despite all those languages or cultural mores, our commonalities far outweigh our differences.” That’s something that all good leaders understand.

Writer: Lucy Jolin
Photography: Patrick Roberts, Darren Wise

Welcome Back, Winter Term 2017

Monday 9th January 2017

A warm welcome back to all our students who have returned this weekend to find Aiglon and the village blanketed with fresh snow. It is certainly a dramatic change from the end of 2016, and it gives everyone the feeling that winter has finally arrived.

Classes began this morning after the winter term’s first school assembly in which the students were presented with the initial results of the school survey taken in September. While perhaps a little bit “data heavy” for a Monday morning, the presentation gave everyone a chance to reflect on what it is that makes Aiglon a special place. We discussed what we do well as a community and where we also have the opportunity to make improvements, an important message of reflection on which to begin a new term and a new calendar year.

The Head Master also captured this theme in reminding the students that we should always give extra attention to our words and actions. He pointed out that it is easy to take an extra step to be kind and considerate, and that such small actions can create a difference.

With these reflections in mind classes begin, students head up the mountain and Aiglon gets going again, dressed for winter and all the opportunities that it will bring us.

"Alice", a great end-of-term success!

Thursday 15th December 2016

In the week leading up to Aiglon's winter holiday break, a group of dedicated students put on a terrific performance. This year's show put on by the Aiglon Drama Department was called, "Alice".

Following the death of her brother, Joe, Alice retreats to Wonderland, where she encounters a range of quirky and bizarre characters who, in their own unique way, help her deal with her loss. On her quest to find ‘the heart’, she overcomes her frustration with the people that she meets to start processing what she is feeling.

In a re-imagined version of the classic tale ‘Alice in Wonderland’, an enthusiastic cast and crew have worked really hard to create a unique vision of Wonderland. An ultimately uplifting tale, this play adds a darker touch to justify the existence of Wonderland, but in doing so adds depth and emotion to Lewis Carroll’s original story.

A colorful and dramatic spectacle, the students and staff team did an excellent job in a very short amount of time. They brought "wonderland" to life in a way that delighted the school from the youngest juniors, the seniors and even some parents who managed to join for the three-day run. The show brings this very full autumn term to a nice close, and gave everyone something to comment on, compliment and discuss in these final few days of 2016.

Photographs by Darren Wise

From the Magazine: Round of Applause, Aiglon hosts Round Square's 50th anniversary conference.

Thursday 15th December 2016

When Alessandro Barel di Sant Albano (Belvedere, 2012) arrived at Aiglon College in 2008, he carried with him a valuable piece of advice. He says: “The weekend before I started school, my father told me, ‘Say yes to everything. You’re going to develop new passions and see new things.’ And he told me a lot about Round Square, because he had been to Gordonstoun, one of its founding schools.”

Alessandro quickly acted upon this, volunteering for the Round Square committee. This opened the door to some extraordinary experiences over the next four years at Aiglon. A conference at Wellington College, for example, offered the chance to visit the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and see how British Army officers are trained – and to attempt their feared obstacle course. But most memorable of all was a trip to a women’s refugee camp during a conference programme in Thailand. 

“We met women who had endured incredibly difficult lives, and were now trying to improve their prospects. Some of them had been there for years. Befriending them, even though we were there only for a day, was a remarkable experience. Of course, there was a language barrier, but it’s incredible how the universal language is a smile. That’s something that stays with me wherever I go.”

Today, more than 120,000 young people across the world are granted similar opportunities through Round Square. The organisation embraces close to 170 member or candidate schools on five continents, all of which share a holistic approach to learning aligned with the philosophy of the German educationalist Kurt Hahn, a source of inspiration for Aiglon’s founder, John Corlette. Its ethos is encapsulated in the acronym IDEALS: Internationalism, Democracy, Environmentalism, Adventure, Leadership and Service.

In 2016, Aiglon was one of two member schools chosen to host Round Square’s 50th anniversary international conference. The five-day event in October brought delegates from all over the world to Villars, and included parallel programmes for students and adults.

“Almost 50 students were involved in working on the conference,” says Mr Peter Willett, Head of Art and current Aiglon Round Square Coordinator. “It wasn’t a school project. It was a real event, with a budget that they had to plan and deliver. It was valuable in helping them develop personal leadership, organisational and planning skills, and I’ve been very proud of them. I foresee that Aiglon will be a richer place because of the conference and the students’ engagement with putting it on. And what a privilege to host it in the 50th anniversary year!”

An honour, yes, but also an appropriate choice. Aiglon is one of the six original schools that formed Round Square; two of the others, Schule Schloss Salem in Germany and Gordonstoun in Scotland, were founded by Hahn himself. It was one of Hahn’s former pupils, Jocelin Winthrop Young (later an eminent educationalist and headmaster), who first had the idea of gathering together the headmasters of the ‘Hahn Schools’ in 1966 to form a permanent partnership. A second meeting in 1967 at Gordonstoun gave the fledgling organisation its name, after the school’s distinctive circular court.

Aiglon’s values were already in close accord with those of the other schools. John Corlette’s blueprint had owed much to Kurt Hahn’s ideals of experiential, holistic education, though the two men had not always seen eye to eye. During World War Two, John Corlette had taken up a post at Gordonstoun under Hahn’s headship but left in 1945 as the two began to take different courses. Nigel Watson’s history of Aiglon College, With Wings as Eagles, says of this episode: “Both Corlette and Hahn were strong-willed, idiosyncratic individuals and it was only a matter of time before their proximity brought about a clash of temperament... Relations between the two men remained strained until the last years of Hahn’s life when a form of mutual understanding was reached.”

For its first three decades, Round Square was organised along far less sophisticated lines than it is today. Former staff member Mr Tony Hyde, who was appointed Aiglon’s representative in 1979 by the Head Master of the time, Mr Philip Parsons, says: “It was a person-oriented organisation. It was the headmaster who was the member, not the school. If the head moved elsewhere, the school was no longer part of it unless the new head was co-opted.

“At that time, the only things in which the representative was involved were the organisation of student and staff exchanges and putting together the international conference delegation – as well as the organisation of said conference if the school was willing to do it and was selected.”

With the gradual addition of new initiatives, Round Square’s remit expanded. Mr Hyde recalls that, from 1981, he was given the task of drumming up support for the new Round Square International Service (RSIS) venture, which brought – and still brings – students from member schools to work on practical philanthropic projects in the poorest parts of the world.

The innovations continued when Ross Hunter, Elizabeth Senn, Simon Braidwood and Nick Teal took their turn as representative. Aiglon hosted a successful international conference in 1990. Mr Hunter recalls all delegates being able to fit into the hall, both for meetings and the final dinner; by 2008, the organisation had grown to such size that annual conferences had to be held at two schools simultaneously. Soon after taking over in 1990, Mr Braidwood started up the Boronka Project in Hungary – a collaboration with fellow Round Square founding school, Schule Schloss Salem. Each summer, a minibus of volunteers from Aiglon would head out to south-west Hungary to help with wildlife and habitat conservation. During this time, there was also a drive to raise funds from school activities, notably triathlon days, and strong Aiglon delegations attended annual conferences in Germany, Scotland, India, Australia and Canada.

Mr Hyde became Round Square representative for a second time in 1999 until his retirement in 2009. The difference in his duties this time around was striking. He says: “I was responsible for student exchanges, organisation of two regional conferences, raising money for the Prince Alexander Project Fund [to support RSIS], spreading the word about Round Square within the school itself, and organising the annual triathlon to raise funds for the six Starehe scholarships for students attending that school in Kenya. I was also responsible for promoting and co-ordinating the process for Aiglon students attending both RSIS and regional service projects.

“The role definitely expanded after the international conference in 1990, which turned it from a person-oriented membership to a school-based one. It now involves a much greater workload and commitment, and a wholehearted belief in the philosophy and ethos of the organisation.” It’s a sentiment that is echoed by his successor, Mr Willett. He says: “Yes, it’s an organisation that gives our students access to like-minded schools around the world; but an important thing to emphasise is that it’s a philosophy, not a club. Through the IDEALS, it encourages students to think outside the box, and not just about themselves but about other people.”

The impact of Round Square on Aiglonians’ lives can be profound. Maiga Winzenried (Clairmont, 2009) says: “I ended up studying environmental management at university and I think quite a bit of that was due to Round Square – topics
of sustainability and environmentalism were involved in a lot of the activities. And in the end, having to make things work with people from entirely different backgrounds is interesting and useful.” As well as taking part in conferences, Maiga spent three weeks on an RSIS project in Ladakh, a remote and mountainous region of India. She says. “We were camping for three weeks next to a monastery to build a dormitory for kids at the school. Some of them lived miles away and wouldn’t go to school unless there was somewhere for them to sleep.”

The harsh environment, physical labour and cultural differences – with the young delegates spending time with child-monks as young as three at the monastery – required a great deal of adjustment. “It was a shock,” she says. “When we returned to Aiglon, we were all quite quiet for a month or so, because we’d not seen anything like that before; but it was good to be able to take part in helping there. Now, whenever I go travelling, it’s always to do a service project or something that involves the community or the environment.”

Darina Satdinova (Exeter, Upper Sixth) was heavily involved in organising the 50th anniversary conference, heading up the pastoral committee. “I live and breathe Round Square,” she says. “As well as all the conference planning, I’m on the school committee. We work on all the fundraising events, such as the Halloween and Valentine’s dances, and the international days. Anything that’s done under the Round Square name, we have to organise. We decide on the prices and we’re in charge of the money, the emergency fund and so forth.”

And while all this experience has already built up her confidence in her leadership abilities, Darina believes that the full benefits of Round Square will only become evident in her life beyond Aiglon College. She says:

“When I’m working, in 10 or even 20 years’ time, I think I’ll still find it valuable how I participated in this and learnt how much a whole team effort really matters when you’re pulling together a big project.”

Mr Willett agrees. “We can never entirely know what the effects of Round Square will be on our students’ futures,” he says. “We can give our students these responsibilities at a young age, or expose them to people who live in a poor environment, or to refugees who have risked everything. But we’re sowing seeds, not growing trees.

“Often, these are things that have a great impact on their lifelong decision-making, or their philanthropy in later life. And it’s always great to hear that the seeds have come to fruition – sometimes many years down the line.”

Writer: William Ham Bevan
Photography: Ian White