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Principal's Blog: Reflections on Surval

10 September 2021

Creating Powerful Stories, Transforming Futures

Surval’s creative mission captures so well the inspiration and aspiration provided through its education and environment.  Girls are encouraged to set ambitious goals and to embrace all opportunities open to them.  In our opening assembly of the new academic year, I encouraged girls to dare to dream and to see themselves as the authors of their own stories, so that they look back with no regrets on missed opportunities.  What would they want the title of their book to be?  What image would they like on the front cover?

In our staff INSET programme, I asked staff to tell me their Surval stories and identify key moments which stood out to them.  Almost without exception, their stories were of girls whom they have seen grow and flourish in their time at Surval,  who have grown in confidence and found their voice in the supportive environment.

Storytelling is powerful and, during my opening weeks in Surval,  in encouraging girls and staff to tell me their stories and the stories of Surval,  I too have reflected on and shared my own stories. From my memories of life in an all girls’ boarding school and recognition of how these years shaped me as a person, to my early career experiences in Scotland as a teacher and the impact inspirational colleagues had on my educational philosophy, to more recent years working in international schools in Asia.  

And so to more recent stories and my move to Surval this summer.  We have all faced situations during COVID where we find ourselves in a position we could never have envisaged.  In my case, I accepted the position as Principal of Surval Montreux having never been able to set foot in the school nor meet people face to face.  The difference between Surval and my previous position is quite significant, `comme le jour et la nuit` as my new neighbours would say.  Here I was, leaving behind an established position as Deputy Head of a large international co-educational day school in Hong Kong to move to a small international girls` boarding school on the edge of the Alps.   The view from my studio apartment in Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island could not be more different to the view over Lac Léman I now enjoy from my chalet! 

I was appointed nearly a year in advance through a recruitment process managed entirely remotely.  My final panel interview felt rather surreal as I sat presenting virtually to the UK Board, late in the evening Hong Kong time with a monsoon storm raging outside the window.   I had anticipated being able to visit Switzerland at some point over the following ten months, but this was - I admit - quite naive in the face of the COVID pandemic and strict travel restrictions.  So it was that when I packed up my belongings and boarded the plane to make Switzerland my new home, it was the first time I set foot in the school.  

It was with a huge sense of relief that, as soon as I entered Surval, I felt the warmth and welcoming atmosphere for which the school is renowned, created by the people in it and the ambience of the building and surrounding area.    I had been inspired by photos of the magnificent setting of Surval - the reality is even better.  I marvel constantly at the view from my new study. An astounding natural scenery I can always rely on to help ground me.  I challenge anyone not to immediately feel both comfortable and inspired upon arriving at Surval. For me, both personally and professionally, it has been lovely to see the girls looking settled and happy in their new home-from-home so quickly, enjoying each other`s company, and so at ease in talking to staff and peers alike in our multicultural environment.

As a full boarding school, we are blessed with the best of both worlds on our doorstep: very easy access to the safe and vibrant town of Montreux, known as the pearl of the Swiss Riviera, and its neighbouring towns, alongside the iconic Swiss mountains, lakes and rivers.  Our days are packed full of learning and adventure.  

It is our role to help the girls articulate what they learn from each adventure so that they gain confidence in their strengths and can look to their future pathways drawing on their knowledge of their interests and talents.  Conversations with Grade 12 girls and our Swiss Gap Experience students about their university and college applications have begun in earnest.  The world is their oyster and the range of opportunities can be overwhelming, but bringing their thoughts back to situations where they have risen to the challenge and flourished helps ensure they follow a pathway suited to their needs and interests. 

Over the coming months, I look forward to continuing to learn and explore everything the school and Switzerland have to offer in support of a challenging and enriching education.  That the school’s mission fits perfectly with the impact of the education provided is already very clear and I look forward to seeing girls flourish and create their own stories through their Surval experiences.  

Ms Nicola L Dudley

Principal Surval Montreux

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