Principal's Blog

The Power of Experiential Learning

15 March 2024

‘I regard it as the foremost task of education to ensure survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity; an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial and above all, compassion.’  Kurt Hahn 1886-1974


The impact of a Surval education draws heavily on experiential learning.  From the moment girls arrive in Switzerland and find their feet in our international boarding community far away from home, they learn through experience and exploration.  Through the opportunities for discovery, adventure and challenge provided within the enrichment programme at Surval Montreux, students have no option but to learn and develop through experience and reflection. They develop greater self-awareness whilst building their understanding of others. 


A group of 12 Surval students are currently preparing to face possibly the pinnacle of their experience at Surval as we approach our long-anticipated service project. They have hit their fundraising target, taken part in training and are now in the final few weeks of preparations.   As one of the adult team supporting the expedition, I am certainly excited by what I am about to experience, observe and be part of. 


The team is looking forward to heading off during the Spring Break to work with the charity Better Lives and the Kindwitwi community, 3 hours drive from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, supported by True Adventure.  The team will be involved in work on sustainable initiatives during their 7 days living with the community:  supporting the development of the local kindergarten including painting educational murals, building a kitchen, developing the vegetable garden, planting banana trees; and digging a trench to help a village family become connected to a water supply.


They will enjoy being part of the community, whilst being self-sufficient camping on the Kindwitwi campsite.  There are so many skills which will be developed through their work, not to mention self-sufficiency, problem-solving, determination, resilience, teamwork, leadership, communication, appreciation.


It is a few years since I have been part of a school expedition like this, and memories of past expeditions are coming back to me – the team spirit which pervaded, the shared sense of adventure, the pleasure of living the experience alongside students, memories of the incredible development and growth of individuals and the team as a whole during the process. 


These are experiences very different to most other school trips, taking the students well outside their comfort zone -  and the impact and rewards are potentially much greater.  The impact on students’ personal development is just one side. The sustainable impact on a community is equal to this and will, equally, leave students with a deep understanding and commitment to service and belief in their capacity to make a difference on the global stage.


The particular impact of such an expedition on an all-girls group in building confidence and courage, and helping them feel empowered are aspects I have covered in previous posts.


I have no doubt that the experience will be life-changing, empowering, challenging, impactful – both for students and adult leaders accompanying the project. With a focus on handing the ownership of the expedition over to students, their leadership and teamwork skills will be challenged and developed. 


As an adult leader supporting the expedition, I need to allow space for the experiential learning experience to work its magic on the students.  Standing back can be hard for teachers, but it is essential to achieving the level of personal development and empowerment we aim to offer through such an expedition.  Whilst loosening the reins and handing over leadership to the students, we will never switch off and constantly evaluate the situation – it is a fine balancing act between control and letting go. 


I look forward to reporting back after our adventure!


I will finish as I began with another inspiring quote from Kurt Hahn, a key figure in the development of experiential learning:


There exists within everyone a grand passion, an outlandish thirst for adventure, a desire to live boldly and vividly through the journey of life’.