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A place to take with you

I was the seventh alumnus who visited ISB the day that I was there.

There's something special about a school that people remember fondly and come back to, years later, and where teachers stay on for decades.

Going back to ISB was in the nature of a pilgrimage. It had been twenty years since I last set foot on campus; I'd left in Year 8, at the end of 1996, but the memories were vivid as if they had happened yesterday.

Memories of friends and classmates, inspiring teachers, stimulating lessons; school plays and music lessons; mediaeval feasts and the food stalls at the International Festival; trips to Trier and Florence.

When you return to a place you were happy, there's the risk that the reality won't live up to your memories, or that what one loved has disappeared...

But ISB looked great. It was easy to see why I had been happy there.

There was the Elementary School, looking slightly smaller to an adult eye, but still much the same. Even many of my favourite books in the library had been kept. There was the Château looking out onto the sports track and the Bubble.

And several of my teachers were still there. Phil Hesse had swapped sixth grade teaching for athletics; Renaud de Walque, who'd taught me French in sixth grade, was now head of the elementary school French department; Anna Zeiders, now principal of the elementary school; and Mike Crowley, for whom I'd written my first school paper articles, was now the middle school principal.

What struck me was how positive everyone was. The teachers obviously enjoy their work, and the kids seemed happy, friendly, and engaged. A couple of elementary school girls had no qualms about chatting to a stranger, while two middle school students had just done a research project and hoped to attend an academic conference. These were all kids with a bright future.

ISB was, and is, somewhere special. It had high expectations for students, and encouraged them to be the best they could be.

It also taught me to be a liberal and a citizen of the world. Going to a school with 62 nationalities can do that. You realise that what you think of as normal in your home country might not be normal elsewhere, and you learn to see the world through another's eyes.

ISB instilled a curiosity about the world. I'd been aware of other cultures as far back as I can remember; my parents travelled widely, spoke several languages, and I'd devoured books about mythology and travel as a child – but there's a world of difference between armchair travel and experience. ISB brought home the bigness – and the richness – of the world, with all its cultures and languages.

Learning French, in particular, opened up world culture and history. There's a theory that says students should learn grammatical points by rote, but ISB taught me French in an immersive and stimulating way. M. de Walque's lessons were always creative and encouraged students to use language imaginatively, to communicate – writing comic strips, acting in skits, and designing board games. In middle school, I continued with geography and history in French. Even while living in an Anglophone country, I've kept up my French, thanks to bandes dessinées and an obsession with French grand opera.

Years later, I taught English to Sudanese refugees and international students—and I remembered my own early months of struggling with French, trying to make myself understood while grappling with an unfamiliar language and culture. Learning another language gave me the empathy to understand what it is like to move to a different country, where everything seems strange, and the patience to help my students.

I'm working as a writer and editor for the Australian Government while freelancing for papers and magazines. In my day job, I write about agricultural aid programs to developing countries, and have briefed members of parliament about international relations. As a journalist, I've sat in the caravan of an African circus ringmaster; I've squatted on my haunches in a plastic sorting factory in the Mumbai slums, talking to the workers and drinking hot chai in plastic cups the size of thimbles; and I've interviewed Chinese cultural attachés and Japanese drummers.

That's why I'm taking a leaf from the book of that famous Belgian, Tintin, and making a career as an international journalist. It will be a career in which I can explore the world, write about it, and teach others to see the world differently – as ISB taught me.

We live in uncertain times, when the world is becoming increasingly fearful and intolerant – at the very moment when we should come together and work to create a better future. If we can emphasise diversity, articulate ideas to open up public debate, and encourage audiences to see the problems and joys of life and consider their responsibility for them, we may create a liberal, literate, humane and curious global citizenry.


Written by Nicholas Fuller, years at ISB: 1993-96, Graduation Year: 2001