Sarvodaya: “The World We Wish to See”

By Mark Friedman, Round Square Coordinator and Community Service Director

We are having a wonderful time at the Round Square International Conference in Madhya Pradesh, India hosted by The Emerald Heights International School. Morgan G. ’22, Chris C. ’21, and Nathan M. ’21 are doing a great job of reaching out and are making lots of new connections.

We started our trip in Mumbai. We visited the Chhatrapati Shivaji train station, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the Rabajai Clock Tower; markets; Dhobi Ghat, the world’s largest outdoor laundry; and Dharavi, the world’s third-largest slum. We also got to spend time with Harnoor, a former exchange student to Athenian who flew down from Delhi to meet us.

The conference theme is Sarvodaya, which means “the world we wish to see.” The Emerald Heights International School describes Sarvodaya as follows:

“The theme of the conference is Sarvodaya-The world we wish to see. Sarvodaya is a Sanskrit word meaning progress for all. The word is a combination of two terms: ‘Sarva’ meaning one and all and ‘Uday’ meaning welfare or uplift. Combined the word signifies ‘Universal Uplift’. Very appropriately the conference is scheduled in the week when the world celebrates the Mahatma’s [Gandhi’s] 150th Birth Anniversary and the week that follows is dedicated to non-violence and peace. This is in keeping with our school’s philosophy.”

Conference Facebook page

The keynote speakers at the conference have been a diverse lot. We heard from Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi on the 150thanniversary of Gandhi’s birth. Other keynote speakers include a member of parliament who worked with the United Nations for 30 years, an Indian performance artist from LA, and a robot.

Every evening includes an hour-long cultural performance from conference delegates. Weather willing, this is followed by an outdoor dinner buffet with a huge spread of food and outstanding dance performances. Each evening has a special theme and is truly spectacular.

We have met the folks from Chanderbala Modi Academy, the school that is hosting us after the conference. The conference delegates are the ones who are hosting our students and they seem very excited to host.

The monsoon season refuses to end, so we have had a couple of rainstorms, some with intense wind. We are having a great time and we look forward to spending time at the Chanderbala Modi Academy!

Traveling to Colombia and Coming Back “A Whole New Person”

by Lev Dufaux ’23

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that highlight Athenian’s Pillars, the foundational values that we share with all Round Square schools. This installment is a speech about International and Multicultural Understanding delivered by 8th grader Lev at Morning Meeting to the Middle School.

We had hiked for about an hour or so, the air thinning more and more with each step up the mountain. Our conversations began to slow as we rose over 9,000 feet. Once we neared the top, gasps and yells of excitement broke out of our airless lungs. Our dewed faces lifted when we saw a big blue-green gleaming lagoon cradled by a bowl of jungle, like a potion being brewed in a witch’s pot. Last year, I went to Colombia for a Round Square conference that Athenian annually takes part in, along with three other Athenian Middle School students.

The Round Square trip was an opportunity to bond with people all around the globe, immerse myself in a culture very different from American culture, and develop leadership skills that will help me and others create a better home for everyone. South America was new to me, and I had no idea what to expect. Colombia led me through a whole other culture; it almost felt like a new world. Like a hug and kiss whenever you meet someone, or the smell of exotic food that lingers through the air. When I explored Colombia, I experienced new flavors, new landscapes, a new language, and a very loving community. Dancing was a very big part of my trip there. We had dance competitions to our favorite Reggaetón songs, laughing at how terrible we were at Cumbia. We tried all kinds of new wild Colombian flavors, my personal favorite being hot chocolate and cheese, which melts on your tongue like cotton candy. I met all kinds of new people, not just American and Colombian, but also Chilean, Peruvian, Mexican, Brazilian, Canadian, British, Argentinian, and Danish people.

One moment that changed who I am today was when we did a service project in a small school in the mountains. At the school, we created murals, made a new playground, took care of the children, and made the school a more enjoyable place. When we sat there in the worn down schoolhouse, I realized that the kids were not super young, but closer to my age. Later, our guides told us that they were so small because they didn’t have easy access to food. Keeping these children in mind keeps me grateful for my community, and it compels me to help others. Knowing that I made these children’s lives a little better keeps me focused on leading because it changed not only their lives but mine as well. I became inspired to stand up and lead, and I now feel comfortable sharing my opinions.

Never have I gone on a trip to a foreign place and come back as a whole new person. I met so many new people that I still talk to this day, and more often than not I find myself thinking about all the great experiences I had with all kinds of wonderful people. I miss the smell of freshly made ajiaco soup pouring out of small restaurants and the taste of homemade arepa that gives you a reason to step out of bed in the mornings. I miss the warm hugs and kisses when you meet someone. I miss my good friends that I made that I still talk to today. I haven’t forgotten about Colombia one bit, and still keep a part of it on my wrist every day, a bracelet the color of the Colombian flag. Special thanks to Esteban and Cynthia for organizing and supervising the trip, and to Kyle P., Kate L., and Maddie G. for coming along with me.

Bringing Environmentalism Back to Athenian

By Karen Hinh ’19 and Vikrant Goel ’19
This is the third in a series of blog posts that highlight Athenian’s Pillars, the foundational values that we share with all Round Square schools. This installment is a speech about environmentalism delivered by Karen and Vikrant at Morning Meeting to the Upper School. The students rightly point out that the School’s focus on Environmentalism was “on pause” during our recent construction projects and they are leading the cause to recenter this pillar in the life of the School. 

Karen: Hello Athenian! We are presenting to you the Environmental Pillar at Athenian. Let’s be honest. It was, still is, one of the more forgotten pillars these past couple of years with all the change that’s been happening on campus, but we’re here to bring it back.

Vikrant: As someone who has always been interested in environmental issues, Athenian’s environmental stewardship pillar was one of the things that I felt passionately about from the very beginning of high school. It created an awareness in me about the importance of my personal responsibility, and the impact that I could make as an individual. It also encouraged me to choose working with an organization called Go Green Initiative for my community service project for junior and senior year, where I worked within my local community of Pleasanton to create awareness regarding a new recycling ordinance by going door to door to local businesses, talking to residents and students at public events, working with a team to conduct waste audits for the City of Pleasanton, and convincing the City School Board to comply with local recycling policy.

Karen: My inspiration comes from the science classes in elementary and middle school where I researched the effects of overfishing on the ocean, the benefits of renewable energy, air pollution in Beijing, etc. Raise your hands if you’ve had a class where you learned something similar. Yeah, right? So we’ve all had those little nuggets of knowledge along the way. But for me, the more news articles I read, the more videos I watched on YouTube about how food waste is the dumbest problem in the world, and the more I educated I got, the more invested in environmentalism I became. Fortunately, Athenian has given me a chance to see the lack of environmental education on campus these past couple of years, and that has only motivated me to do more for this campus to bring it back to the Green Ribbon school it was.

We need to care about the environment because it’s our home. We are the ones who have to live with the consequences of how we treat it, and the fact of the matter is that we haven’t been treating this planet very well in the past century with the era of fossil fuels and single-use plastic. Certainly not with a government that pulled out of the 2016 Paris Climate agreement, and that is now pushing for more coal jobs and less environmental regulation.

Vikrant: Last fall, I had the opportunity to write an article for my Journalism class, where I chose to write about the importance of instilling a culture of sustainability in schools, focusing on Athenian for my research. I was surprised to find that despite the fact that environmental stewardship is a core value of our school, we lost our focus, particularly during the construction on campus. For example, the majority of us didn’t even know that all of the compost and recycling was being hauled directly to the landfill, which was key during a time when we used disposable plates, cups, and cutlery. [Note that the School maintained separated waste disposal during the majority of construction, but there were several months when all waste was being redirected to the landfill. Because of the Environmental Science classes’ efforts, the School quickly restored our waste disposal last year and students increased the education on campus about proper waste sorting.] As a result, I really felt that change was urgently needed, and we did make some headway in the second semester last year, though I hope we can keep this momentum going in the coming year.

Karen: That’s why I started the Environmental Action Club. That’s why my friends and I are working on rebuilding the garden at Athenian with the club and a sophomore community service group. That’s why I won’t shut up about you tossing your food in the landfill bin, because it’s these small things that reflect how we choose to treat our planet and the future that we are all going to have to live with.

Thank you! Remember to come join us at the march next Saturday, and check your emails for more details. [This speech was delivered in September and a large cohort of Athenians attended the Climate March in San Francisco.]

Round Square Service Trip in India: Update from Afar

by Mark Friedman, Director of Round Square and Community Service

Read the first post from the trip here.

We finished up our time at the Pathways School and are now in Delhi. The three Athenian girls on the trip and the three Pathways World School girls that were their hosts really bonded. They said it felt like they had known each other for months, not four days. They couldn’t get enough of each other during our last hours at the school, sharing all manner of contact information and strategizing about ways to see each other in the future. But eventually it was time for Yukti, Maansi, and Anya to go back to being regular Pathways’ students and for Malia, Isabella, and Olivia to head off for other parts of India. Our luggage loaded into our vehicle, we waved goodbye to our new friends at Pathways. It was also goodbye to the calm of rural India. Good-bye to horse-drawn carts, fields of blooming mustard plants, and piles of cow pies. Our next stop was the Delhi, home to over 45,000,000 people, and the boisterous cacophony of Old Delhi.

While the distance isn’t so far from Pathways to the heart of Delhi, the number of cars in the way made it a two-hour journey. On our way into the city, we picked up our tour guide, Dolly. She talked about her 37 years as a guide and showed us pictures of her daughter’s wedding, which included seven events. Dolly told us that her daughter had an arranged marriage. Her daughter is very committed to animal rights and the one thing they checked before approving the marriage was that the potential husband would allow her to continue this work.

That afternoon, we visited the Jama Masjid, one of India’s largest mosques. It was built by Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who also built the Taj Mahal. The people visiting the mosque—faithful, entrepreneurial, or curious—were almost as interesting as the structure. Then it was off for a rickshaw ride, a great way to travel the crowded streets of Old Delhi. Even getting to dinner that evening was an adventure: a 20-minute walk through the darkness along crumbling sidewalks with car headlights and beeping horns rushing past.  Gratefully, the inside of the restaurant was a calm retreat.

The next day we visited the government buildings left by the British and taken over by India, such as the Parliament and President’s House.  They’re built in a style that combines European and Indian architecture.  The President’s House is on a long axis with India Gate, a memorial to the Indian soldiers who died in World War I.  The sightlines to the India Gate weren’t worth much however, as it was barely visible through the thick soup of Delhi’s air pollution.

We visited the first Mughal mausoleum, Humayun’s Tomb. The Taj Mahal is the most famous Mughal mausoleum and was built by Humayun’s great-grandson Shah Jahan. Humanyun’s Tomb is gorgeous, but just as important are the grounds. Our word for “paradise” comes from the Farsi word for “walled garden.”  Qutb Minar is another UNESCO World Heritage site and commissioned by the first Muslim ruler of Delhi.  Finally, it was off to Akshardham Temple, which is only five years old.

Today, we get up early for the 3½ hour drive to Agra, once the capital of the Mughal Empire. Agra is famous for the Taj Mahal and also for the Agra Fort, which was once the home of the Mughal emperors. I have been to the Taj Mahal before, but the experience was still astounding. We all know what it looks like, but it is breathtaking to have it standing there in front of you. Our guide, Ashish, was very knowledgeable. Part of what is great about the Taj Mahal is the stone work. There’s amazing stone inlay throughout the building. And the famous white marble on the outside is translucent, which means the building looks different as the light in the sky shifts. We couldn’t help taking tons of photographs. And one of our favorite parts of visiting the Agra Fort was looking upriver to the Taj Mahal on the banks of the Yamuna River.

Tomorrow we have to head out at 6:00 AM to the Genesis Global School, another Round Square school near Delhi. We need to get there in time for a 10:00 AM all-school assembly.  I hope we’re not expected to make a presentation! After a full d
ay of activities at the school, the Athenian students head off with Genesis families to do homestays over the weekend.

Round Square Service Trip 2017: Athenian Delegation Reports from India

by Mark Friedman, Director of Round Square and Community Service

Greetings from Pathways World School, located in a rural area south of Delhi.  It was a long journey here. Our three hours in the Amsterdam airport were an unexpected pleasure, though—we wandered through shops full of wooden shoes and tulips and ate our last fresh vegetables for two weeks. Landing at 3:00 AM, the Delhi airport was thronged with people. Thousands stood in long queues to enter the country. Every shop was open. Usually, I do one big currency exchange for everyone in the group because you get a better rate exchanging more money, but not in India.  Because of India’s demonetization policy, you can only exchange US$85 per passport.

I love the first taste of the air in a new place. Leaving the airport, we drank in the pungent and smoky air of Delhi. Arvinash, a stylishly-dressed history teacher from Pathways was waiting for us. Despite the fact that our flight from Amsterdam had been delayed, our group was unified in wanting to stick to the day’s schedule, which meant getting to breakfast by 9:00 AM after only a couple hours of sleep.  We are all staying on the Pathways campus, the girls in a dorm and me in the guest house.  The dorms here have a guard on duty 24/7, a woman in front of each girl’s dorm and a man in front of the boy’s.  As I said good night to the three Athenian students and the security guard at their dorm, the sounds of singing and chanting from a nearby temple filled the early morning air.

A few hours later, we arrived at the cafeteria.  The school’s 500+ boarders had finished long before. We surveyed the food, looking to see what we could eat to follow the rules of only eating foods that were “cooked, bottled or peeled.” Toast and cereal were our main breakfast fare.

We met three girls—Yukti, Maansi and Anya—who would be our hosts for the next four days.  They made a presentation about the school’s ongoing work supporting government schools in local villages and then we were off to a school 20 minutes away. The drive itself was fascinating. Women wearing bright colors with huge bundles of wood branches balanced on their heads.  Thin cows wandering and sitting alongside the road.  Hundreds of cow pies drying in the sun, to be burned later as fuel. The village school is located less than a mile from the city of Gurgaon in a village called Parla.  It seemed incongruous to be in rural India and have dozens of 20+ story apartment towers looming nearby. The school we were working at was founded in 1931 by the grandfather of the current service director at Pathways, Sunil.  What a treat to be there working with him! As we drove to the school, Sunil pointed out a plot of land that he said belonged to his family for “thousands of years.”

Our first day at the village school, we started painted murals.  It was Friday, but a school holiday. There were dozens of boys from the village there to play cricket and watch—or occasionally help—us. Not a single girl. One of the school’s art teachers was there, Druvswamini, and she helped sketch the original designs for the murals. The village only has electricity in the evening, so Pathways is putting in a solar system at the school as that is the only way to have electricity during the daytime—and without electricity there can be no computers at the school. Some of the equipment for the solar system arrived that day.

The full moon was that night. The village’s temple is across the street from the school. As the morning wore on, more local women arrived at the temple to drum, sing, and chant. Sunil and I went to visit and then brought the six girls over. The first time the girls sat with the women, but the second time our girls danced with the local women. Lord Shiva is the local god and the song that the women sang was about him.

Part of the temple structure was the old well for the village where the women all used to come for their water. Most of the local water is from the ground. The water table used to be 30 feet down but is now 200 feet, and dropping 10 feet each year.

We headed back to school for a late lunch. The students have physical education and sports every day and the Athenian girls chose to go horseback riding. Before dinner was a cultural event about slam poetry and spoken word. There were also a number of songs performed, all accompanied by guitar. Interestingly, it seemed like something that could have happened at Athenian. Indeed, Isabella performed a song with one of the Indian girls serving as our host. The three Pathways’ girls joined us for our post-dinner debrief.  We had an interesting conversation about how women are treated in Indian society.

The next day was Saturday and we headed back to the school at Parla. In addition to finishing the murals, we also helped install some new wash stations for the students. Good hygiene and washing before each meal is part of our strategy for staying healthy in India, but it’s also important and challenging for the locals.  Pathways supports many local schools with new wash stations. Pathways not only installs the hand washing stations at 17 local schools—in partnership with Rotary International who donated US$60,000 to the Pathways for this work—but the Pathways maintenance staff visits the local schools to do ongoing maintenance on the donated items.

After lunch, our group of six students and a few Pathways teachers headed off to go camping.  A short ten-minute ride from school, we came to an outdoor adventure facility.  We had fun going down the zip line and were challenged by things like a climbing wall and cargo net. While warm during the day, it does get cold at night. We ate dinner around a big fire. At 10:00 PM, the Athenian students retired to our tents, though the cold meant that most of us slept poorly.

We were up at 6:00 AM for trekking, or hiking.  A red sun rose over foggy fields.  Cow pies dried alongside the path. We scampered up two rocky outcroppings for views of the surrounding countryside. Then we headed off to the Surajkund International Crafts Mela. This featured over 1,000 booths with crafts from all over India and many other parts of the world. We were joined by several faculty families on this outing, which made it extra special. The crafts were amazing, if overwhelming in their profusion. Olivia attracted a lot of attention and many people wanted to have their picture taken with her.

On our last day at Pathways, we began with a visit to Prakashpuri Temple, which is set in a peaceful valley. We visited a meditation case in the nearby cliffs and were served chai. Then it was off to visit two government schools that Pathways supports. We wandered amongst classes high-fiving students and admiring their school work. Finally, we arrived back at the Parla School and finished the murals we had been painting.

Sunil, Pathways’ community service director, is the one teacher from the area.  He invited us to his home in the late afternoon.  We got to meet his wife, daughter and parents, tour his home, explore his village, and go on a 90-minute hike in the countryside. What a treat! Then his wife made homemade curry and poori.  The wheat is grown in the family’s fields and ground at his house. We were so well fed that we skipped dinner in the cafeteria.

The three Athenian girls and the three girls from Pathways have grown very close. It’s astounding to think that they didn’t know each other four days ago. When they’re together, it’s a riot of animated talking and laughter. We depart Pathways tomorrow for Old Delhi and the farewells will be sad. All three of the Pathways girls are interested in coming on exchange to Athenian, so one way or another I expect these relationships to continue.

That’s all for now! I’ll check back in with more in a couple of days.

Being an Exchange Student at Athenian

As a member of Round Square, Athenian participates in a robust international exchange program. We send more than 35 sophomores abroad to sister Round Square schools every year and host just as many on our campus.
We recently hosted a student from the Bridge House School in South Africa. She wrote our Round Square Director, Mark Friedman, a lovely letter about her time at Athenian.

Hi Mark!

I wanted to apologize because when I left Athenian, I never got to formally thank you and Emily for the effort and thought that you all invested in order to make my exchange so memorable.

When I asked past Bridge House students that had attended Athenian on exchange about what to expect, they immediately smiled and told me that I was going to love it. I then met Justine earlier in the year [when she came here on exchange] and I knew that if your students were similar to her, I would find it difficult to leave, and I was right. I have completely fallen in love with your school, the food, the lifestyle and most importantly, the people. I have made memories and friends that I will never forget; and even though Athenian is not like the typical American public school that we see on TV in South Africa, it is perfect just the way that it is. I admire the determination and passion that your students have for their work, their constant big smiles and the happy atmosphere throughout the campus, and (I’m sure that you have heard this many times before) the absolutely breath-taking views. I find it difficult to convey how perfect my experience was to my friends and family because it went way beyond anything that I had anticipated. I notice myself constantly thinking about everyone that I miss.

Mathomo and I are excited to share our experience with the younger Bridge House students that will be attending Athenian in the years to come. I now know that they will never be able to forget these two months of exchange, because how could they forget two of the best months of their lives.

I hope that everyone is doing well.
All the best for 2017,
Ella Solms

Another student from Bridge House School recently applied to come to Athenian. In her application, she wrote the following:
“I have a great interest in The Athenian School in California in the USA, because most of the people that I look up to and my friends have been to the school and have nothing but great praise for it.  They almost all recommended me to go there.  What mainly attracts and interests me about The Athenian School is that they are said to embrace cultural diversity, encourage intellectual independence and tolerance of different global perspectives. …  Why do I think I am the most suitable candidate for the exchange program? I am a young and talented African woman with exceptional leadership qualities. I am thirsty to broaden my future horizon and learn more about other people’s different way of life. Given this opportunity I would be a great ambassador of not only my school and my community but also my country as well. I intend to share my values of Ubuntu with my host school and community.”
Athenian’s exchange program continues to grow. This year, we have students traveling to and coming from Argentina, Australia, China, Columbia, Germany, India, Peru, South Africa, South Korea, and the UK.

Update from Germany: The Round Square International Conference

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-4-07-21-pmGreetings from Louisenlund School and the 2016 Round Square International Conference. We arrived here on Monday afternoon after three train rides. The Athenian delegation is doing well, making many new friends, and enjoying their time at the conference. Here’re some of the highlights of our last few days.

On Saturday, we got a bus ride higher into the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) to Feldberg Mountain. It’s the highest mountain visible from Birklehof School. We caught a gondola to the top. On a clear day, you can see the Swiss and French alps from the top of Feldberg Mountain. Ours was a cloudy day, so no Mount Blanc, but it was still beautiful with great views—and a monument to Bismarck. screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-4-07-29-pm(The above photo is the group in front of this monument.)

We hiked down to and around gorgeous Feldsee Lake and had lunch at an inn that was just a few meters away. The lunch was another classic German meal, vesper. Vesper was traditionally a light meal, but we were served a huge spread with a dozen meats, a dozen cheeses, bread, fruit, sausage noodles and more. We were well fed for the eight-kilometer walk back to campus from there.

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-4-07-34-pmBirklehof held its Halloween Dance that evening because the end of October is an exam time at the school. The drinking age for beer in Germany is 16, so the older students at Birklehof were able to buy and drink beer at the party. (No beer for the conference delegates!) This seemed especially odd because the dance was for high school and middle school students.

Sunday was the last day of the preconference. We mostly spent the day on campus doing things like archery, climbing, and playing volleyball and Black Forest hockey. It was a gray, rainy day. In the afternoon the raindrops started looking very big—and then turned into the first snow of the year. The leaves were still on the trees, flowers were still blooming, and the ground was covered with snow. The other conference delegates were from Australia and South Africa and some of them had never been in a snowstorm before.

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-4-07-39-pmMonday was a travel day. We met in the darkness at 6:00 AM to walk nearly a mile to catch the train into Freiberg. We had 11 minutes in Freiburg to transfer to the train for Hamburg. After catching up on sleep on this six-hour train ride and eating some waffles from the food car, the train pulled into the Hamburg station. We weren’t standing at the train doors with our luggage. By the time some of us had gotten our big suitcases to the exit, the doors were locked and the train was rolling on down the tracks. As you might imagine, it was a bit of a shock to have half the group on the platform and half standing on the moving train. Gratefully, the next stop was just a few hundred meters away. Since we’d traveled around Hamburg on the public transit system, the Athenian students and I were able to easily navigate switching over to the adjacent subway train system and quickly rejoining the main group.

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-4-07-46-pmArriving at the Round Square International Conference is usually a bit of a shock. There are dozens of groups of students from schools all over the world and it’s chaotic getting everyone registered and oriented. Louisenlund School is located right on a lake and a cold wind was blowing from the water.

In our first two days at the conference, there have been dance performances, icebreakers, small group discussions, and service projects. We’ve also had three excellent keynote speakers. Ben Saunders is a polar explorer. His most recent expedition was going on foot to the South Pole and back via Shackleton and Scott’s route. Everyone else who has tried this has failed or died. And, amazingly, he is a great speaker. We heard from Dr. Manfred Spitzer, who is an expert on brain research. This sounds kind of dull, but he had excellent slides and was really able to talk about the practical applications of recent brain research. To share just one of his points, he noted that loneliness is the deadliest disease. This evening, we heard from Souad Mekhennet, a German journalist who is Muslim and has worked for the New York Times and Washington Post. She shared some fascinating stories of her work and got some great questions in the audience on Islamophobia.

Probably the best thing that happens at the conference is the new friendships that are formed and the Athenian students are making some great connections. Tomorrow is the mid-point of the conference and so our return to California on Sunday is just days away.

Update from Germany: Visiting the EU Parliament and Learning About Refugees

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-11-25-09-amGreetings from Birklehof School in Hinterzarten, Germany! The train ride south from Hamburg went well. We had a six-passenger cabin for our group, which was fun and cozy. We were all still adjusting to the time change and so we mostly slept. We stepped off the train in Freiburg and I wondered if I had bought tickets for the right city. There is also a Freiberg in Germany. I felt relief as I saw a familiar face—Carolin who came on exchange to Athenian last spring! She is a student at Birklehof and they sent her and a teacher to meet us. That’s Carolin second from the left in the picture—and the teacher even had a lapel pin with the US and German flags.

Birklehof is on a gorgeous spot looking out over the hills of the Black Forest. I didn’t realize the school was founded by Kurt Hahn. We do regular exchanges with all of the schools on the pre-conference, so as the students met each other they discovered many existing connections through mutual friends.

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-11-25-17-amThe first full day of the pre-conference was action-packed. We were up at 5:45 AM to depart in the darkness for Strasbourg. The town has bounced between France and Germany five times in the last two hundred years. There wasn’t even a sign to note when we had crossed the border into France. The European Parliament is in a stunning building. The administrative offices are in Brussels, but Strasbourg is where the Parliament actually meets, which happens for four days each month. We got a 90-minute orientation by a Czech civil servant, who was quite a character. For all its flaws, the EU has delivered on its core goal of ending war between its member states, which is something given the history of Europe!

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-11-25-24-amWe were able to sit in on an hour of the EU Parliament in session. There are currently eight parties and they are seated from left to right based on their politics. The Communists and Sinn Fein are on the far left. On the far right are nationalist groups that don’t believe in the EU, including members with views such as that only men should have the right to vote. Tellingly, the British members of parliament on the far right all had little Union Jacks on their desks. Most of the members of parliament hadn’t arrived yet, but we got to listen to speeches on two human rights issues: the ongoing crisis in the Sudan and the conviction in Thailand of a workers’ rights activist, Andy Hall. Interestingly. the parliament members speaking against these human rights violations were equally distributed around the hall.

The translation services of the EU Parliament are amazing. There are 26 member countries and the EU Parliament proceedings are translated into 24 languages. (The United Nations only translates into 6 languages.) It worked perfectly.

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-11-25-49-amWe had a traditional Alsatian lunch of flammekuech. Flammekuech is similar to St. Louis-style pizza, but different in that one of the most popular toppings is sauer kraut! It was all you can eat, so the waitresses brought round after round. We spent the afternoon exploring Strasbourg. Unlike Hamburg, it did not suffer major damage in World War II and so it is full of gorgeous centuries-old buildings. We got a tour by boat and then walked around town in small groups. I could happily have spent days there. The exterior of Strasbourg’s cathedral is stunning in the late afternoon light. Like most people, I slept on the two-hour bus ride back to school, before dinner and a campfire with s’mores.

Today was another excellent day. The focus was the refugee crisis in Europe. In the morning, a Birklehof teacher gave us an overview of the topic from a German perspective. Our students said they really enjoyed hearing from him. Before and after his talk, the students met in small groups to talk about what they thought about the refugee crisis and what refugee issues are like in their country. At noon we walked into the village, caught the train into Freiburg, and visited the town’s Refugee Accommodation Center. The building was formerly the Town Hall and then the library. A new library was opened last year and the inside was gutted and converted into accommodations for refugees; 400 refugees, mostly families, now live in the center.

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-11-25-34-amThe best part of our visit was getting to ask questions of four young refugees. Most of the talking was done by a 16-year-old girl from Iraq named Zarah. Zarah was so impressive: calm, articulate and personable. She spoke to us in German, a language she started learning just in February of this year when she was able to begin school in Germany. Her parents were killed and she was brought out of Iraq by her aunt and uncle, with whom she lives at the center. She traveled to Germany through Turkey and then in a boat to a Greek island. They are still waiting for a decision on their application for asylum in Germany. She said that she has friends at her school in Germany, but that it’s difficult to connect with her fellow students outside of school. What would improve her life? “An apartment for my uncle and aunt, jobs for my uncle and aunt, and being able to stay.” All of the Round Square delegates, including the ones from Germany, talked about how hearing from her brought home in a human way what the refugee crisis is about and the challenges the refugees face. In Zarah, I think we were seeing the face of Germany’s future—and it looks good.

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-11-25-42-amIn the late afternoon, we headed to the center of Freiberg to have a look around the town. Dinner was the traditional local dish of maultaschen, which is akin to fried German dumplings. They were delicious—and good food makes this group of Athenian students very happy. The Athenian delegation had our daily debrief session on the train ride back to Hinterzarten. Two students from other schools joined our group as honorary members. Tomorrow we have a day-long hike through the Black Forest.

The Athenian students are doing great—healthy, happy and making many new friends.

Athenian Round Square Delegates Arrive in Germany

by Mark Friedman, Community Service and Round Square Director

Greetings from Hamburg, Germany!  Athenian’s delegation to the Round Square Conference in Germany flew from SFO to Copenhagen and then on to Hamburg.  I always find it exciting and unsettling to get on a plane one day and get off the next day on the far side of the planet. In the short time we have been here, we have reconnected with friends, eaten delicious food, and had moving experiences learning about WWII at a historical church and concentration camp.

picture6As we were finishing breakfast at our hostel yesterday, we were met by Franzi.  Franzi lives in Hamburg and attends the Round Square school that is hosting the conference.  She came to Athenian on exchange last year.  Franzi liked Athenian so much she wanted to transfer, but her parents said it was too far away.  So she has enrolled in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program because she is interested in coming to the USA for college.  We had Franzi as a tour guide for half of the day, which was a huge treat.  (Franzi is second from the left in the photo, which was taken at the front door of Hamburg’s Town Hall.)

Yesterday was a national holiday in Germany, Unity Day, so Franzi had the day off from school. The town was deserted and the shops closed when we headed out at 9:00 AM.  We wandered the streets and waterways of Hamburg, visited the historic warehouse district, and took a boat tour. We visited what remains of Saint Nicolai church.  It’s tower is still the second highest structure in Hamburg.  Almost all of the church was destroyed in the Allied bombing of Hamburg during World War I.  The ruins have been left as a memorial to the horrors of war.  We went up the tower, which was a scary elevator ride.  We also went into the crypt, which is a museum that focuses on the Nazi bombing picture5of the English city of Coventry in 1940 and the Allied bombing of Hamburg in 1943.  The Germans introduced the concept of saturation bombing of cities, along with innovations such as incendiary bombs.  Later in the war, the Allies used these same techniques to bomb many German cities, including Hamburg.  Over 900,000 people in Hamburg lost their homes due to the bombing, code-named Operation Gomorrah.

Our day ended with a little help from another friend.  Athenian 12th grader, Kiana Amir-Kabirian, lived in Hamburg for 11 years.  We ate dinner at a pasta/pizza restaurant she recommended, Vapiano.  We ordered our dinner from the cook and watched with them as they made it—or chatted with them if we were feeling really friendly.

picture3This morning, we took an hour-long train and bus ride into the countryside east of Hamburg to visit the Neuengamme concentration camp.  Our group had a three-hour guided tour.  I didn’t know anything about this concentration camp before this trip, but it was the largest camp in western Germany and had 84 satellite camps. It wasn’t an extermination camp like Dachau or Auschwitz. Our guide called it a “death through work” camp.  Half of the 100,000 prisoners who worked in the brick and munitions factories here died. It was a profound experience to walk around the almost deserted grounds and imagine the horrors that took place here.

picture2There are different exhibits for the prisoners and for the perpetrators in their respective barracks.  The many drawings by former prisoners of the camp powerfully conveyed their fear and terror. Our guide explained that in designing the memorial they made a conscious choice to put information about the conviction of SS troops as the first thing you see when you enter the perpetrators building. No flags with swastikas. No pictures of confident SS soldiers.  If any supporters of the Nazis visit the museum, the folks at the memorial didn’t want them to find anything to make them proud.  Only 14 of the 4,500 SS guards at Neuengamme faced trial.

picture1After returning to Hamburg in the mid-afternoon, we did some shopping.  Then it was off to dinner at yet another restaurant recommended by Kiana.  With friends like these, who needs TripAdvisor?

Early tomorrow we have a six-hour train ride to Southwest Germany and Birkelhof School, where we’ll meet up with delegations from Round Square schools in South Africa and Australia.

“Beyond the Blackboard”: Kurt Hahn and Expeditionary Learning

by Eric Niles, Head of School

I write this blog post from Shanghai at the beginning of a six-country tour to celebrate Athenian’s 50th Anniversary and our identity as a global boarding school.  Shanghai is an amazing city and I have been warmly welcomed by our parents here.

As I landed, my email and texts were lighting up with notes about a radio documentary on KQED.  The piece isn’t literally about Athenian, but really, it is.  It is about Kurt Hahn, educator and founder of Outward Bound and the inspiration of our founder, Dyke Brown. It is about Hahn’s passion for character education and an emphasis on non-cognitive skills like persistence, leadership, and getting along with others as the means to prepare students to be compassionate citizens.  It is about education as it should be.  It is about Athenian.

The story is long, but I urge you to listen if you can find the time.  If you want to understand why we do Focus Friday’s, and AWE, and Round Square exchanges, and emphasize the Arts, and push so hard on core academic skills–this story is a great window into our mission and our thinking.  And if you want your child to visit the schools in Germany and Scotland started by Kurt Hahn, then just have them sign up for a Round Square exchange, for those two schools, like Athenian, were founders of that organization.

Part 2 of the story helps you understand why we are thinking so deeply about Athenian’s public purpose, the service we are supposed to do as an institution beyond the great education we provide every day to our students.

I know I often say “the world has come to Athenian.”  This story another indication of that.

Enjoy as I take Athenian to the world for the next few weeks.  See you soon.


Photo of students sitting for individual reflection during 9th-grade orientation at Pt. Reyes.  Photo by Mark Lukach.