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Building lifelong friendships

Posted on: 13th November 2018 | Category: Principal's Blog

When the two sides of the Channel Tunnel were linked between the UK and France in 1994, the British tunnellers chose as their first item to pass through to their French counterparts a symbolic soft toy: Paddington Bear, the beloved children’s literature character. Paddington, who in Michael Bond’s stories, first arrives in England as a stowaway from Peru, is found by the Brown family at Paddington station, clutching his battered old suitcase and wearing a note around his neck: “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” A kind-hearted bear who is always polite, Paddington’s adventures have filled generations of readers with joy. For me, setting off  two years ago on my first international trip for Surval to Peru, I was reminded of the little bear that I’d loved as a child and struck by how his mantra  “If you are kind and polite, the world will be right” resonates strongly with our own values here at Surval.

Paddington’s story encapsulates the importance of acceptance; of welcoming strangers and newcomers; and of the long-reaching effects of little acts of kindness. As I packed my suitcases this October (I don’t travel quite as light as Paddington!) for my trip to Latin America, these were the values I was reflecting on; and, as I travelled to three different countries – Panama, Guatemala and Mexico – I was overwhelmed throughout by the warm welcome and generous hospitality that I received.

As we at Surval each paint our journey of this year, mine has been given new colour and texture thanks to my experiences in Mexico City and Monterrey, Panama City and Guatemala City. Each were very different; enjoying and celebrating their own cultures, arts and traditions, with different foods and menus reflecting their different landscapes. Yet the people of each place had in common a powerful sense of strong support for our school. My trip was filled with meeting former, current and prospective families; I visited and established important links with four International schools; and I had the pleasure of catching up with several Survaliennes, some of whose daughters are current students here.

One of the best parts of studying at an international school is the opportunity to forge friendships with students from around the world; our Surval girls inscribe “friends for life” in each other’s yearbooks at the end of the year, and on this trip, I bore witness again to the truth of such promises. I met with a fascinating lady who attended Surval forty years ago, who spoke with fondness of her memories of Surval and her lifelong friendship with a woman from Saudi Arabia, with whom she is still in close contact. Our international friendships were then toasted at the trip’s culmination – a wonderful Brunch in Monterrey, supported by both recently established and long-standing supporters and friends of our much-loved school.  It was fitting, therefore, to return to Switzerland, where the first snowfall had painted the mountains’ peaks a dazzling white, to hear of stories of friendship and fun on the school trip to Greece. “It was amazing discovering Greece with Surval,” wrote Laura (Grade 9, Kazakhstan) in her excellent article for the Student Blog: “We all grew closer as friends.”  

As the days grow shorter and the December examinations appear on the horizon, the girls’ friendships are invaluable support to them when thoughts turn to faraway homes or subject assessments. And whilst the Excellence Book is updated weekly with achievements from within the classroom, the girls are rewarded for their extra-curricular efforts too. I have been delighted to see the leadership shown in the organisation of the annual Halloween celebrations (in which our elegant teacher of Etiquette appeared together with her form class as Cruella de Vil and several of the 101 dalmatians); the ongoing commitment to charity demonstrated by the students who participated in Cartons du Coeur; and the influence of our Global Perspectives course brought to life in several Model United Nations events.

Each week, Rubi (Grade 9, Mexico) emails out three ‘Sustainability Tips’ from the School’s Sustainability Club to staff and students, and one of her tips last Friday again made me recall Paddington Bear. “The biggest mistake is to do nothing because you can only do little,” Rubi shared with us. The wisdom of the message inspired me to theme my next Assembly on the value of random acts of kindness; of helping others, whether strangers or friends, of “being kind and polite”, simply because we can – and, by doing so, helping to ensure that “the world will be right.” As the Channel Tunnel connected two countries who had a long and at times difficult relationship, and a bear who epitomises kindness and optimism was passed from the British to the French, I too look to the future with hope, and feel proud to be part of a school in which every day the friendships between students from around the world grow from strength to strength.

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