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Principal’s Blog: Reflections on the last year

Posted on: 13th November 2017 | Category: Boarding life

It’s been just over a year since I entered the world of Surval. Much, I suspect, like the other new girls who started at the same time as me, I did so with a sense of excitement, tinged with anticipation. I was standing at the threshold to an unfamiliar universe, but looking forward to the next chapter in my story.

Little did I know then, quite what an extraordinary world I was about to enter. Surval welcomed me with open arms, drew me into its friendly family, introduced me to inspiring and fascinating individuals from around the world and taught me more than I could ever have imagined. It’s my hope that this is the kind of experience shared by every young woman who comes to our unique school.

Surval is special in so many ways, but at its heart it is a home where we live together as family, where strangers become friends in a safe and nurturing environment, where each and every individual is encouraged to benefit from all that we offer as a small bespoke school.

But if we are small in size, we are global in perspective. Our family includes girls from across the world, who thrive learning about the different cultures and traditions of their friends, and who jump at the opportunity to take part in a host of trips that offer even more of a vision of the world around them.

As I write, our girls have recently returned from Italy and Spain, where they sampled the culture and cuisine of these two fascinating countries. Our admissions registrar Ms Olga Bulankina has just been to Russia for a recruitment trip.

My own travelling has taken me to Mexico, where I visited the capital city, as well as Monterrey and Guadalajara. Being over 6,000 miles (almost 10,000 kilometres) from home, made me think about the girls who come to Surval: about the ‘call to adventure’ that brings them across the Atlantic and the Alps here to Switzerland from Mexico and from other corners of the globe. It made me think about how much they rely on each other, how they look after each other, how our small family is so much bigger because of the individuals who belong to it.

It is often said that charity begins at home. That is certainly the case at Surval, but from our school it extends much further than that: testament again to the importance we instil in giving everyone an understanding that global perspectives extend beyond traditional borders.

My journey to Mexico came shortly after the country was hit by a devastating earthquake. I was so moved by the spirit and strength of this remarkable country, from which so many of our current and former students have hailed and it was a real honour to be able to speak with those I met and hear true tales of resilience. I took with me a set of postcards penned by current and former students, expressing solidarity with those affected and I presented them to the American School in Monterrey.

I was also proud of our girls who shared the 2000 CHF that they raised at a charity bake-off between those affected by the earthquake and the Kenya project, which we support on our annual trip to help build homes for vulnerable communities with the Habitat for Humanity organisation.

We all benefit from having a global perspective – and this thread weaves its way through Surval life: from our work in social enterprise and charity, to travel, to our extraordinary Liberal Arts programme. This course is constantly evolving to ensure those who take part in this international year gain the skills they need to find their feet and carve out their path in a world where they are likely to have significant responsibility.

But, if global perspectives are important, we also know that much of what we offer would not be possible were it not for the very special aspects that a Swiss education offers. The benefits of a Swiss education are now as sparkling and crystal clear to me as the waters of Lac Leman, over which I gaze every day.

As I wrote recently in an article for the World Schools website, Switzerland is a small country with a lot to offer. http://world-schools.com/a-small-country-with-a-lot-to-offer/. We are thrilled to have recently joined the Swiss Group of International Schools (SGIS), and we look forward to greater collaboration with other local schools in sports, arts and social activities.  

In Switzerland, I have been heartened and encouraged by the number of boarding schools I have visited and their emphasis on family, either those owned for generations by the same family, or those like Surval for whom a family ethos lies at the heart of what we offer. This ethos is grounded in the values of courage, curiosity, openness and honesty and it is as crucial to a nuclear family as it is to our school family.

Not only that, but our location – perched on the mountain side above the water’s edge, allows for an unparalleled array of activities to nurture the personal development and well-being of our students. Meanwhile, nearby Geneva hosts an unparalleled array of institutions that lead the world in diplomacy, in hospitality and business – and we have fostered strong relationships with many of them who can help our students further develop their personal and global perspectives.

Just over a year after entering this world, I know I still have much to explore.

I look forward to sharing this journey with you.  

Mrs Patricia Woodhouse


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