You’ve checked term dates. Packed the bags. Made it up the mountain. But this time, it’s their turn.
We talk to alumni and their children about what it’s like to share the unique Aiglon experience.
Originally published in Aiglon Magazine Issue 10, June 2018.
Tom Holland (Delaware, 1980)
and daughter Bianca (Le Cerf, Year 12)
Bianca Holland grew up listening to anecdotes about her dad’s school days – it is 40 years since Tom persuaded his parents to send him across the world from Australia to Switzerland. While he might have moaned at the time, Tom says that his memories are extremely happy. “It was the whole experience, I couldn’t unpack it: the community, the camaraderie. To wake up and go skiing instead of classes, now that’s incredible. Life was so busy, we were always doing something.”
When Bianca first arrived, she experienced a bit of homesickness, “but after about a week I was over it and haven’t looked back since”. “Bianca grew up in Monaco,” says Tom. “It’s a concrete jungle. I wanted her to live in the mountains and connect with nature.”
Sixth-former Bianca is in her first year at Aiglon and says she is still in the “taking pictures of the view from my room” stage.
While Tom notices a few more home comforts at Aiglon – “In my day Delaware wasn’t exactly falling apart but it was in need of repair” – he recognises that the heart of the school is much the same. “Apart from the beds. They are way more comfortable now,” he says. “And the bathrooms – we had one per floor. But there was, and is, a unique character to the place.”
In his junior years at school, Tom didn’t enjoy the same privileges that his daughter enjoys as a senior. “I think it’s really great that the students are given the chance and the space to discover things about themselves.” Bianca has just completed a snowboarding expedition, something her dad would never have been offered. “We just used to put seal skins on our skis and hike,” says Tom. “We still do that,” Bianca points out.
Fraternising with girls wasn’t his priority, though he remembers boys’ houses would occasionally lure girls over for dinner. Bianca, meanwhile, has just been to the Alpina Ball. “It was great fun,” she says, “and a great chance for everyone to get dressed up.”
While Bianca doesn’t go to church as much as Tom remembers having to, he looks back fondly on Saturday activities. “It keeps them busy,” he says. “In the teenage years there are so many distractions. The healthy mind and body message is so important.”
Aimée Salmi (Clairmont, 1990)
and daughter Nicolette (Exeter, Year 12)
It has been 30 years, but as Aimée Salmi peeks in at her old house, Clairmont, the memories flood back. “They were probably the best years of my education,” she says. And now her daughter, Nicolette, is discovering the benefits of meditation, hiking and room inspections for the first time.
Both agree the experience is more rigorous these days. “I think the style of education has changed,” says Aimée. “The IB seems much harder work than the A-Levels I did. We may have learnt things in depth, but this is a different way of learning.”
Aimée arrived from Norway with no English, but ski-racing, hiking and earlymorning roll calls forged the strongest friendships of her life. “Coming back after holidays to new roommates was just so exciting,” she says. Nicolette adds that her roommates have become her closest friends. “They really help me out, and it’s great to come back to them and de-stress.”
Aimée remembers standing in line on Sundays for the shared house phone – “You got five minutes if you were lucky.” Letters were more common. Aimée recently wrote to Nicolette from the Bahamas, but the letter took nearly three months to reach her – and Nicolette’s reply has yet to arrive.
Although people did sometimes get into trouble – “It was the boys who pulled all the pranks, like putting a curtain in a toaster” – Aimée particularly remembers the night half the school slipped out to meet at a local nightclub. “No way could you do that now as we have house alarms,” complains Nicolette.
“At 17, it was hard to live under what you felt were antiquated rules,” says Aimée. “Our Houseparents were very strict. Fail a room inspection and you’d suffer the consequences.” “We still have them!” points out Nicolette. “But I think that’s part of the Aiglon thing – it makes you organised.”
One thing both agree on is that the new resources, which include an observatory, new sporting facilities, and a central restaurant, allow students to spend more time together, as a whole school. “In my time, meals were served in our individual houses,” says Aimée, “and we had meal exchanges with other houses once a month.”
Gruelling expeditions and mixed backgrounds were, she says, fantastic for building character. “It’s ingrained in me. Aiglon made me a strong person and able to take the positive out of any situation; to aim to be happy and kind,” she says. “When you’re up a cliff on a mountain, you’re in a phenomenal playground. Those years were inspiring and just a sheer joy.”
Paul Stewart (Alpina, 1984)
and son Ashton (La Baita, Year 8)
Paul Stewart isn’t about to tell his 13-yearold son Ashton the naughtiest thing he did at Aiglon, but he does blush. “In those days, if anyone was busted for drinking, smoking or sneaking out, they’d put a big notice on the board. It was very public,” he remembers.
The worst he will admit to is sniggering during morning meditation. “It was so quiet, I got uncontrollable giggles,” says Paul. “In front of the whole school, a teacher said, ‘Stewart, get out’. I didn’t argue, I got up and left. But, apart from that and trying to sneak in the odd collarless shirt or anything approaching a sneaker, I did a pretty good job of staying on the right side of the law.”
It is 34 years since Paul left Aiglon, and while he thinks the school today is more polished, with some fantastic new facilities, the feel of it is essentially unchanged. “There’s a consistent ethos, based on John Corlette’s outlook, that seems to me very much intact,” he says. Ashton agrees, suggesting it’s as challenging now as it ever was. “Things like the expeditions are tough, but everyone is up for it; everyone’s trying to sign up. Things will tire us out but we’ll keep on doing them.”
As a competitive skier, Paul says he was “just too knackered” ever to feel homesick. “We were never bored. Roll call, lessons, skiing, more lessons – going back to class was a killer – roll call, prep and bed.” If he ever heard from his parents, it was by happy accident. “We had one payphone in the house,” he says. (“What’s a payphone?” asks Ashton.) “My parents got annoyed that they could never speak to us,” Paul continues. “It was off the hook most of the time. Or someone would hog it during tea.”
In contrast, even when his parents are away, Ashton is in frequent touch with his family. “We used to write our parents a letter every week,” says Paul. “That would be nice to receive now. I might ask the school to reinstate it.” Ashton looks aghast. “Do you know how unpopular you’d become?” he says.
Ashton finds the teachers more open-minded than at his former UK school, and thinks there’s a mutual respect between staff and students that encourages a great atmosphere based on hard work and achievement.
The school cuts through difference, says Paul. “No-one cared less where you came from. That’s what Aiglon is all about. All schools can teach Maths, Physics, Chemistry; but Aiglon creates this incredible, enduring bond.”
When he regroups with former schoolmates, the years melt away. “We have a great time and the stories kick off. All the wives and husbands roll their eyes” – much like Ashton is doing now – “because they’ve heard it all before!”
Haakon Lunde (Belvedere/Alpina, 1984)
and daughter Erle (La Casa, Year 8)
When Haakon Lunde went to Aiglon 37 years ago he was, he says, in the best shape of his life. “Jumping jacks before breakfast, running every day! If you were late or wearing the wrong clothes, you’d get laps – that meant running 1.5km. And if you were extra bad, you had to run to a chalet high up the hill and back. That was quite something, especially in snow and ice. I wasn’t very good at rules when I began at Aiglon,” he says with a grin.
Poor behaviour is still punished with ‘laps’, his daughter Erle tells him, but they now take the rather more modern form of sitting in silence. But it’s all part of a focus on academic achievement. “I think, generally, there’s a high expectation about what students have to achieve these days. You have to work hard; you know if you don’t, you won’t get the results.”
Haakon remembers with a grimace the room inspections and prowling prefects. But it didn’t stop him sneaking out at night. “To meet girls?” his daughter teases. “We had a rope at the back of Alpina,” her father replies, “and we used to go to where the new reception is now to hang out. It was out of bounds and we thought they wouldn’t come looking.”
No such luck for Erle – she says that if anyone tries to sneak out after hours nowadays, an alarm sounds. “The wonders of technology,” sighs her father.
He remembers a time when girls wore mink coats – “they looked ridiculous.” The new informal uniform is a bonus, he thinks, as are the red ski tops Aiglon students now wear. “We had navy,” Haakon says, “but navy in Egypt isn’t the same as navy in Germany so we had all sorts. It’s much easier to spot students on the slopes now.”
Unlike her father, who was occasionally homesick, Erle hasn’t missed home at all. She shooed her parents away when they dropped her off. “I said, ‘You’re only allowed to visit if you buy me food’.” And they do, at least once a month.
In Haakon’s day, parents were only allowed to visit once a term. Nonetheless, he remembers having more free time than his daughter, and even having the odd liein. “We get called lazy if we don’t sign up for expeditions,” says Erle.
Like many alumni, he is envious of the new school restaurant. “When we lived in Alpina, all the food was made in Belvedere and driven up to us in a car. By the time it reached us, it wasn’t even warm.” “We have buffets, three courses; it’s like, ‘Whoa, so much food’,” says Erle. “And we have Icecream Fridays, with caramel sauce.” “Oh my goodness,” mutters Haakon.
He says Aiglon feels “a hundred times bigger” with all its new facilities. “We just had pottery and wood carving. Now it’s huge. There’s metalwork, 3D printing and internet coverage all over campus. It’s amazing.”
Haakon turns misty-eyed when his daughter talks about her planned expeditions – the trips form his fondest school-time memories. “Three to four days hiking or skiing,” he says. “One day, sun; the next day, hail. It was a crazy time, but magical.”