Making Global Connections in Singapore

By Mark Friedman, Community Service & Round Square Director

Tomorrow is the final day of the Round Square International Conference.  The Athenian students all report that they’re having a great experience.  Singapore is sitting in thick haze caused by forest fires in Indonesia.  There was heavy rainfall today, which cleared the air somewhat.  We even caught a glimpse of the sun for the first time since our arrival.  The poor air quality has led to several changes in the conference schedule, but even Plan B has been of high quality.

Singapore1Today was service day at the conference.  We were supposed  to be off-campus, but because of the air quality the students did the service work at school.  Many delegates worked at the United World College of South East Asia’s (UNCSEA) elementary school, while some worked with senior citizens that visited the school.  The late afternoon brought an amazing collection of nonprofit leaders to campus.  I went to hear Janne Ritskes, who founded Tabitha Cambodia 20 years ago.  The organization has done amazing work to alleviate poverty in Cambodia, with its unique and painful history.  Signapore2The UWCSEA has been involved with Tabitha for 19 of its 20 years and sends 80 students to Cambodia each year to build houses with them.  Very inspiring!  I went down to meet Janne after her talk and to explore the possibility of bringing a group of Athenian students to Cambodia to work with her organization.  Then, in the evening, the conference hosted the world premiere of the film ‘Life is One.’  The film is a moving story about protecting sun bears in Indonesia.  The filmmaker, Patrick Rouxel, was on hand and he is a UWCSEA and Cal-Berkeley alum.  He just finished the film last week, rushing so that we could see it.

Singapore3As great as the program is, the best part of the conference is the friendships that are formed with people from around the world.  I know our students are doing wonderfully at this, but to give you deeper sense of this, let me tell you about two of my conversations today.  I spent an hour this morning talking with Prince Alexander of Germany, who has been involved with Round Square for several decades.  (Prince Alexander is the person on the far left in the photo.)  While I’ve seen him at many Round Square conferences, we had never really spoken.  I asked how he got involved with Round Square and he proceeded to tell the long and fascinating history of how his family, under the guidance of Kurt Hahn, started Louisenlund School in the devastating aftermath of World War II in Germany.  Prince Alexander talked about Dyke and Kate Brown.  And Louisenlund is hosting next October’s Round Square International Conference.  At dinner, I sat next to a teacher from the Amman Baccalaureate School in Jordan.  Having been to Jordan for last year’s conference, I know a little about refugees in Jordan (e.g. there are currently about 900,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan).  We had an interesting conversation about Jordan’s amazing hospitality to refugees and the situation in Europe.

Singapore4Yesterday was Explore Singapore Day at the conference.  The adults and students were on different programs; the students headed into town first thing in the morning while the adults had a morning full of meetings.  My group of adults visited the Asian Civilizations Museum, toured the Singapore River on a bum boat, and visited the Gardens by the Bay.  The Athenian students are looking forward to spending a couple of days exploring Singapore on our own after the conference ends.  They spent Sunday afternoon and evening with their host families, so some of them already have ideas for places they want to visit, such as a henna shop in Little India with good prices.

Learn more about the conference.

Martial Arts and Climbing Coconut Trees in Bali

by Mark Friedman, Community Service & Round Square Director

IMG_9598 (1024x768)Greetings from Singapore!  We arrived here safely this afternoon.  The theme of the conference and the pre-conference trip in Bali is environmental sustainability.  We arrived in Singapore in the midst of an air pollution crisis.  The air in Singapore is thick with gray haze, smoke really, from fires in Indonesia.  The pollution was so thick one day last week that they had to close all the schools.  Gratefully it’s not that bad right now.  The efficiency of Singapore was also on display.  It was a long ride to the airport in Denpasar this morning through a sea of motorbikes.  Despite the fact that the airport is on one side of Singapore and the Dover Campus of the United World College is on the other, the bus never had to slow on our long cross-town drive.

bali1Yesterday we toured a silk factory.  We were able to see each step of the silk-making process and then got to do batik, which is an Indonesian art form.

bali2First thing on Wednesday, we participated in a session on waste management.  After discussing how waste is managed in the different places represented by the schools present, we split up into small groups to walk the nearby dirt roads and pick up trash.  It was a great way to explore the neighborhood.  Bali is full of Hindu temples; there are two within feet of the school and we hadn’t seen them before.  There is no trash or recycling pick-up in the Green School’s neighborhood, so some families just toss their trash outside their compound.  Amazingly, the Green School has its own recycling center where people can bring items.  We brought our trash there and sorted it into one of the 20+ categories of items they recycle.  At the end, there was only a little that had to go to a landfill.
Then each student got to climb a coconut tree.  Almost every Athenian student made it to the top!  (And don’t worry, the students were belayed and wearing helmets.)

bali3Lunch was a special meal and we were served a traditional Balinese feast.  Bamboo mats covered the floor and large banana leaves were laid end-to-end.  On the banana leaves was spread lots of great food.  We sat on the mats and ate with our hands.  We were told that this is the style of dining for a feast where everyone is considered equal, a significant event in a society with a caste system.

bali4One of the highlights of our time in Bali was participating in the Balinese martial art of mepantingan that afternoon.  We heard we were ‘mud wrestling’ and dressed appropriately.  But we began with no mud in sight, standing in a circle on the field.  Two Balinese men led us in simple martial arts stances and movements, with some vigorous call-and-response chanting—and a healthy dose of laughter.  They taught us a couple of moves and had various members of our group come out and practice on them—or on each other.  Then we walked over to a little oval amphitheater nearby, whose floor was covered in six inches of muddy water.  And they led the group in a similar version of exercises there—except it meant getting wet and muddy and getting others wet and muddy.  Various students wrestled with the instructors or with each other.  What a blast!

The late afternoon and evening?  The students had been working in small groups discussing issues such as consumerism, overpopulation, and waste management.  In the late afternoon, each group wrote a shadow puppet show about their theme and cut out puppets to accompany their show.  And the evening activity was watching the ten puppet shows, which were both serious and funny.

IMG_9592 (1024x768)We ate breakfast at the airport in Bali this morning and reflected on our time there.  The students talked about how part of what made their week in Bali so great was that all the Athenian students tried their enthusiastic best at every activity—and they wanted to bring that spirit back to their daily lives in California.  They said that being around the delegations from the other schools made them appreciate even more the respectful relationships they have with their teachers at Athenian.  And they were excited to keep exploring environmental issues having already spent a week thinking about them.

We’re excited to begin the Conference now that we are in Singapore.  More to come!

Greetings from Bali!

by Mark Friedman, Community Service & Round Square Director

The singing and chanting we heard falling asleep the first night is from a nearby Hindu temple.  This has happened each evening.  There is also morning chanting, which I’ve used as an indicator that it’s time to get up.  I’m reminded of the Muslim call to prayer, which was such a significant feature of our experience in Jordan at last year’s Round Square conference.

Bali1As it turns out, the folks at the Green School weren’t able to organize meaningful service work for us all.  Instead, we have an action-packed program of experiential activities.  We’ve made paper from bamboo leaves, created traditional Balinese votives, learned how to do Balinese dance, had a laughter yoga class, and made chocolate sauce from scratch.  We’ve learned how some Green School students got a law passed banning plastic bags in Bai and discussed consumerism.

Bali2We got a tour of the Green School our first day here.  The Green School has amazing architecture.  The ‘heart of the school’ is the largest bamboo building in the world.  The computer lab is on the second floor, the library on the third floor, and there are many art classrooms scattered around its edges.  That night, we went on a ‘night safari’ on the campus.  Our leader was able to find a tree frog, toad, praying mantis, chameleon, and snake by shining his flashlight around in the trees and bushes.

Bali3Yesterday we went on a subac walk through a nearby village and rice fields.  The hike started at Bali’s largest banyan tree.  The Athenian student group insisted on a photo under the tree in honor of the book they read in 9th grade, Under the Banyan Tree.  For a good part of the walk, we hiked along an irrigation canal.  The canal has a few tunnels that we walked—or in my case, crawled—through.  The Balinese irrigation system was developed 500 years ago.  It still works without any machinery and distributes water to people throughout the island.  It’s so amazing that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site a few years ago.  Interestingly, our side of the valley was owned by the village and had corn and rice fields.  The other side of the river had high-end hotels and expensive homes.

Bali4This morning was spent learning about sustainable agriculture—and working at it. The Green School grows about 35% of the food it consumes. We worked in the compost shed—they have a couple of cows, whose manure helps enrich the compost—and the plant nursery and gardens.  In the afternoon, the students were split into five groups of five students and each group had to build a raft.  They were given inner tubes, bamboo poles, and lashing materials.  Afterward, we floated for 60 minutes down a wide irrigation canal.  It was great fun and a wonderful way to see some more of Bali.  Two of the other teachers and I drifted behind the students in inner tubes.  After the students’ rafts had all passed but before I’d arrived, a half-dozen boys ripped off their clothes and jumped into the canal to swim and then playfully followed us downstream.

In addition to Athenians, there are students on this preconference trip from South Africa, Australia, Peru and Canada.  The Athenian students are doing a great job of making friends and taking initiative.  The head of an Australian school commented on their comfort sharing their opinions and taking leadership in a group.  Yesterday, the 60 students were split into two teams for an afternoon activity and Brian Li was selected the leader of one of the teams.  The Athenian students are having a great experience and representing Athenian beautifully.

Making Friends and Building Houses in Bogota

Reflections on Bogota

by Mark Friedman, Director of Community Service and Round Square

Update 1

GroupGreetings from Bogota! It is cloudy and cool here at 8,600 feet in the Andes. Bogota is a beautiful city, nestled in a valley of green mountains. The Athenian students are doing home stays with Colombian families and the host families met us at the airport on Saturday evening. They were all super welcoming.

People here are very proud of their nation, which has made a remarkable turnaround from the days of regular terrorist attacks and kidnapping 15 years ago. The keynote speaker on the first day, Pedro Medina, is a businessman who brought McDonalds’ restaurants to Colombia. He is now President of the “Yo Creo en Colombia” (“I Believe in Colombia”) Foundation and he told an inspiring tale of national transformation. That day our Baraza groups also met for the first time to talk about the speaker and get acquainted. MarkBaraza is the Swahili word meaning a public meeting space and these groups meet throughout the conference.

The second day of the conference, all the delegates spent the day building homes for low-income families in the San Luis neighborhood. Each of the eight baraza groups built a home. Members of the family who were going to receive the home spent the day with us and cooked a traditional Colombian potato soup for the group. Consuela was the woman in the family moving into the house that I helped build. It looked like she was near tears throughout the day. BuildingAt one point, she was sweeping the concrete slab as her new home was being built around her. It was an amazing experience to start the morning with a concrete slab and supplies and nearly have the walls completed for a home in the late afternoon. And a couple of Athenian students were in groups that were able to finish the walls and put on the roofs!

Today, we left the city and got to see some of the beautiful countryside around Bogota. We spent the morning exploring the town of Guatavita, which included visiting a museum focused on the indigenous Muisca people. After lunch on a gorgeous lakefront, we traveled to the lake of Guatavita, a national park and a place the SGuyspaniards thought was El Dorado. The lake is in a gorgeous little bowl, which the Spaniards carved a notch to try and drain the water out in search of gold.

The Athenian students are enjoying themselves and making new friends.

Update 2

Everyone at the conference has been completely charmed by Bogota and Colombia. We only have one big complaint: the traffic. Yesterday we went to central Bogota, which took us over 90 minutes to reach.

We spent the morning doing a fun scavenger hunt. GirlsOne task was singing a Christmas carol in a town square. For another, we had to help a local bakery sell arepas, which are sweet Colombian pastries. We stood on the sidewalk near the bakery calling out “Arepas! Arepas!” We managed to sell four!

We also visited two wonderful museums in central Bogota. The Botero Museum has a great collection of paintings and sculptures by the Colombian painter Fernando Botero. It also includes his amazing collection of modern art. The Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) has an outstanding collection of pre-Colombian artifacts. It provided a window into the local cultures before the arrival of the Europeans.   artifactA highlight of our visit was seeing an artifact which depicts the raft where the new leader, covered in gold, made offerings in Lake Guatavita, which we had visited the day before.

Gratefully, the traffic on the drive back to school in the afternoon was uncharacteristically light and we got back in half the time of the morning drive.

Group2The Round Square Americas Regional Conference ended today with a bang. In the morning, we heard several great presentations. We learned about reforestation efforts in Colombia to counter climate change and global warming, a new effort to bring a Teach for America program to Colombia, and a very entertaining speaker who combined the theme and practice of magic with strategies for how to make change in your world and your life.

group3For the last two years, Colegio Anglo Colombiano (our host school) has partnered with two other organizations to run a camp for young people who were members of an illegal armed group in Colombia. In some cases, the young people left or were rescued from the illegal armed group as recently as a week before the start of camp. Due to security needs of the young people who were in the militias, we only heard from the Anglo Colombiano students who attended the camp. It was a very powerful experience for them. As student after student explained, they arrived at the camp with ignorance and preconceptions and left with a profound sense of their shared humanity and similarities.

DanceAnd then the fun began. There was a great salsa class in the school’s gym followed by a carnival with a five-piece band that played Vallenato. Vallenato is a folk music from the Caribbean region of Colombia. The band set off another round of wild dancing.

After the music and dinner, there were sad farewells to most of our new friends—except ones flying with us tomorrow to the Amazon.  We will be home soon after a few days in the Amazon!


Learn more about Round Square experiences at Athenian.

Summertime and the Living Is…Meaningful

How are you spending your summer?

While some people look to summer for relaxation and vacation, many Athenians fill their summer time with opportunities for cultural exchanges, acquiring new skills, and developing new interests. Twenty Athenian students are spending a large part of their summer either on exchange at Round Square schools or on a Round Square International Service Project while many faculty spend their summer pursuing their passions and curiosities. Take a look at what Athenians are up to while school is out of session.

Making an Impact as Global Citizens

Natalie paints an older classroom in South Africa.

Read about Natalie and Anna’s adventures in South Africa building and painting a classroom for the Lwaleng Primary School outside White River, Mpumalanga.

Sharing space in Romania

Learn about Nick and Vidya’s adventures in Romania, camping, clearing trails and painting safety signs in the Apuseni Mountains. Madelyn is in Peru at a remote location and so their trip is not hosting a blog.

New Perspectives: Adventures in New Places

Kelsey at the Scotch Oakburn School in Australia

Kelsey at the Scotch Oakburn School in Australia

Other Athenian students are on exchange at Round Square schools around the world. Arman, Bronwyn, Trevor, Anni, Kari, Kelsey and Tom and Priya are in Australia; Brody is in Japan; Rebecca, Abraham, Trenton, and Nia are in South Africa; and Eli and Isa are in Argentina.

When I finally arrived at Jacqui’s house I knew that my experience would be exceptional because her family actually lives on a safari and game ranch in the bushes of South Africa called Kuduland Safaris. Her mom handed me a package of biltong, like beef jerky, and showed me my room. I was surrounded by animals: I saw antelope out my window and could hear lions roaring from my room. The Knott family was extremely welcoming and made it so that I felt very comfortable in their home before the end of the first night. I spent a week at her home before I would be going off to school and my experience was extremely special to me. By the end of the week I already hiked up to the mountains to watch the sunset with an incredible view, learned how to drive a stick shift on their helicopter runway, went into a lion cage to feed the lions, got chased by an elephant on a late night safari, saw her father hunt a wildebeest, touched a baboon’s butt, drove a four-wheeler, and visited the official “Dole” orange farm. I also had some amazing food prepared at her home. The meat was actually hunted on the farm! One of my favorite dishes was pup, which is like grits that you hand-dip in gravy. –Nia Warren ’16 on her first week in South Africa

Dick Bradford, Upper School Head, is traveling with his wife, Molly, to Tbilsi, Republic of Georgia, visiting their daughter and Athenian alum Meg McClure ’10. Meg is working for an NGO involved in Georgian human rights.

Life-Long Learners

More than 35 Athenian students are enrolled at Athenian’s Devil Mountain Summer Camp, taking classes and going on adventures. Another dozen or so students and young alumni are gaining valuable life experience by working as camp counselors, TAs and lifeguards.

Bruce Hamren, science teacher, is participating in a Teacher Institute at the Exploratorium, discovering options for data collection and visualization while learning new tools for the Art and Science of Making class.

Teachers Gabe del Real and Kalyan Balaven will be representing Athenian at the International Academic Forum conference. Kal will also be recording a full-length album called “The X-Factor” which tells the story of Hip-Hop as culture and will be an integral part of his new BlendEd course, Beats, Rhymes & Life.

Jessica Donovan, Head of Middle School, and several other Middle School faculty, went to an iPad conference at the Hillbrook School in Los Gatos to prepare for the 2nd year of 1:1 iPads in the Middle School.

Sharing Our Passions

sweeney todd final posterMark Mendelson, theater tech teacher, is the vocal director for Sweeney Todd at Ohlone College which runs through this Saturday. It’s a big show in an outdoor amphitheater with a big cast and big orchestra–get your tickets now!

Adam Thorman, photography teacher, has a photo show at Helix in Los Altos. Check out a feature of his work on the Bay Area Art & Science Interdisciplinary Collaborative Session (BAASICS) site.


Leave a comment below to share what kinds of intellectual explorations and meaningful contributions you and your family have been engaged in this summer.

On International Travel and Cultural Exchanges

Four Middle School students traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa for the Young Round Square Conference this past spring. The students wrote brief reflections of what they learned after 10 days traveling and living with young students from all over the world.

As many of you might be traveling this summer, we’d love to hear your own thoughts about your experiences! Comment below with your own travel or cultural exchange stories.

Experiencing How Others Live

P1020608The Round Square conference in Johannesburg, South Africa was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Throughout the conference, I met so many people from all around the world who soon became some of the best friends I have ever had. I learned so much about myself as a person and about different cultures from all over the world. It is one thing to learn about other countries, but actually experiencing firsthand the way people live and act from around the world is completely different. The experience has changed my life forever and I know that I will now approach my friends and life back at home in a different way. If there is one thing that I could take back from the conference, it would be that even though we are all different from one another, we are all the same age striving for the same goals. I can now go back home knowing that there are people from South Africa, Singapore, Canada, India, France, England, and all around the world who would consider me their friend. The conference has changed my life, and I know that there will always be a piece of South Africa in my heart. — Genevieve DeWalt

Be Grateful and Do More

The Round Square conference was the experience of a lifetime. I know that I can’t take Round Square with me, but I can take the lessons that I have learned back home. The three lessons that I value the most and that I wish to teach my friends are:

1. The importance of the existence of the rhinos,

2. How we should be grateful for our everyday appliances, and

3. How we as a school can reduce our ecological impact on the earth.

P1020454The rhinos are an amazing species, with an amazing design and different breeds. But what makes a rhino an amazing species also makes it an endangered one. As many people know, the rhinos have been poached to near extinction. I have been shown disturbing pictures of rhinos who have had their horns chopped off. This has made me realize that rhino poaching is a real event. When I heard that rhinos were being killed for their horns a while ago I felt bad forthembut I didn’t have the motivation to help them. But, when I saw those photos, I felt the suffering that the rhinos were experiencing, and that emotion is what I want to share with my peers at the Athenian school. I want to teach them that rhino poaching is a serious event and should be stopped.

It is common knowledge that we are very fortunate to go to school. I hope that my peers at Athenian know that we are going to an amazing school, and that there are other people in the world who have not been as fortunate as we are. In South Africa we saw villages made up of huts that contain families that have never dreamed of an education, and large groups of people who live on the streets. Though there isn’t a way in which we can help them, we can feel more grateful for all of our everyday luxuries such as indoor plumbing, water and electricity. We should stop saying “I want the latest iPhone”, or “I don’t like the food” because there are people in the world who would do anything for our lifestyle. Students at The Athenian School waste an absurd amount of food each day. People take food, and then they throw it all away. We should be more aware of how much food we waste and we should realize that our waste could feed many people in Asia. –William Chabala

Learning to Be Me

P1020386Overall, this Round Square trip to South Africa has been an experience of a lifetime. It has made an unforgettable place in my heart, and I will always cherish the memories associated with this trip for my whole life. I remember before I left for this trip, I was more excited to visit South Africa rather than engaging in other activities. The day I arrived in South Africa, I made two of my best friends who live on the other side of the US (East Coast). I noticed that all of us were here to learn about different cultures and values. I learned many new things and moral lessons about everyday life, not just multicultural awareness. As the days passed by, I made many more friends with different personalities. Everyone was a different person, and it also taught me not to be any other way, and to just be myself because that’s who I am. Even my best friends I made there had their own opinions, which I am very appreciative to have gotten to understand and know. I know that no place on this planet is perfect or the same in anyway, but what matters the most is what I took out of this conference. We were all together from different places around the world at one specific place. We learned to join our hands together and accept our differences, our cultures, our opinions, and our personalities. I didn’t know that this would become such a life-changing experience from my perspective. On the last day of the conference it was very hard on me and my best friends to leave each other and go back to our normal lives. And honestly, after just a week at the conference and Camp Discovery, I feel like a totally new and different person. The person which I have now accepted. There is no way that I’m going to forget this memorable trip. I want to thank everyone (including my parents) for letting me go on this experience of a lifetime. –Savi Dhoat

Making Connections

P1020540This trip has taught me a lot of new things about a lot of topics. One of the many things I learned there that I will take back is leadership. In South Africa, we did a ton of activities based on leadership that I will take with me everywhere I go. This trip was meaningful to me because now I know how different people and places act. Now that I have had an experience of that I think I will look at the world by a new light. Having gone on this trip will also better my community service next year because in South Africa, we had all kinds of talks about saving animals, service projects, etc. In 8th grade, for my project, I think I have an idea I can work from now. The people really were my favorite part truly. Being able to meet all these new people will have an impact on me for a long time. All in all, this trip is probably one of the best experiences I have had in my 12-year-old life. –Chika Amamgbo

Interim Adventures Near and Far

Before Spring Break, Athenians scatter the Bay Area and the globe to immerse themselves in 3-10 day experiential adventures. Themes explored range from U.S. history in Washington, D.C. to learning to surf in Santa Cruz, to exploring the Bay Area food scene. Students are travelling internationally to New Zealand, Kenya and Tanzania, Belize, and Costa Rica, and nationally to New Orleans, Ashland, Pinnacles National Monument, DC, and Hawaii. Look for more photos in the next week.

Women’s Self-Defense: Protecting yourself from real-life threats.

DSC08440 DSC08438

Monterey Bay: Elephant seals at Año Nuevo, tidepooling, and the Aquarium




8th Grade Trip to Washington, D.C.: Witnessing U.S. History in the nation’s capital.

Students read prepared essays on men and women of courage buried in Arlington National Cemetary

Students read prepared essays on men and women of courage buried in Arlington National Cemetery

Walking with the Arlington guards

Walking with the Arlington guards

Snow in DC! The 8th grade's first snowball fight.

Snow in DC! The 8th grade’s first snowball fight.



Maui: Searching for a Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, surfing, and soaking in the sun.

Maui, Hawaii (photo by Nadia '17)

Maui, Hawaii (photo by Nadia ’17)

New Orleans: Discovering the birthplace of jazz, Athenian’s ad hoc jazz band will perform at a local event.

New Orleans (photo by Jonothon '16)

New Orleans (photo by Jonathon ’16)

Eating and Cooking Locally: Tasting the Bay Area food scene and cooking a locally-sourced, organic meal.



Kitchen Chemistry: Making microwave muffins, liquid nitrogen ice cream, and glow-in-the-dark jello. (Plus pancakes, caramel, soft pretzels, silly putty, and several experimental creations. For example, what does a muffin without baking soda taste like? Or can you make strawberry sorbet out of just strawberries?)

Kitchen Chemistry: making caramel

Making caramel


Fun with liquid nitrogen

 Engineering and Design Outreach: 5th graders from Montair Elementary came to tool around in the Maker Studio, with the guidance of members of the Robotics team.

Teaching 5th graders how to rivet on an airplane part.

Teaching 5th graders how to rivet on an airplane part.

Using the lathe

Using the lathe

5th graders driving the robot

5th graders driving the robot

Building styrofoam gliders

Building styrofoam gliders

5th graders from Montair came to tool around in the Maker Studio, with the guidance of members of the Robotics team. Here they are driving Athenian's 2012 competition robot.

Here they are driving Athenian’s 2012 competition robot.

Industrial Arts at The Crucible: Welding, mold-making, jewelry-making, metal-smithing, and more.

DSC_0347 DSC_0358 DSC_0314 DSC_0320 DSC_0234 DSC_0350

Check out previous interim trips and activities:

Interim 2013: Mountain Biking, Puerto Rico, US China, San Francisco, Bodega Bay

Interim 2013: China, Puerto Rico, Ireland, DC, Bow-Making, Kitchen Chemistry

Interim 2013

Athenian Interim

7th Grade China Trip

On Exchange at Round Square’s Founding Schools: Salem and Gordonstoun

Athenian was one of six founding schools of Round Square, an international consortium founded by educational leader Kurt Hahn. This semester, two Athenian students are on exchange at two of the other founding Round Square schools, Salem School in Germany and Gordonstoun in Scotland.

Salem: Life in a German Castle

by Sasha Hart ’14

Greetings from Salem International College in Germany!

Sasha Hart - Salem #1

I’ve been here for almost a month now so I figured it was time to send an update to you all. The first week I spent getting to know the place and the people. I met the other exchange from Markham College in Peru, as well as the other girls in my wing, Mädchenbau 1, including my roommate Delia who is from Switzerland. During that first week I got to take a trip to the town of Überlingen which is about a 15 minute bus ride from campus, where most of the people from Salem go to do their shopping, go out for dinner or see a movie.

Sasha Hart - Salem #2

Headerbild_Spetzgart_2_02Since they don’t do exchanges into twelfth grade here, I am taking classes in the 11th grade in IB (International Baccalaureate) Year 1, which is the program where the classes are taught in English. There are two academic programs at the school, the IB and the Abitur. The Abitur is the German-speaking academic program and about two thirds of the 300 students here are in that program, including my roommate. Luckily, most everyone has, at the very least, a pretty good understanding of English. I am living on the 11th grade campus called Spetzgart, a beautiful old castle overlooking Lake Constance. The 12th graders live a five-minute walk away at the Härlen campus, which was built in the early 2000s. Similar to Athenian, there is a morning meeting at the Härlen campus every Monday where there are announcements and things of that nature so I’ve gotten to spend time at both campuses.

Sasha Hart - Salem #4

One thing that is different about Salem is that there are classes on Saturdays. While this was a little bit of a surprise for me, I’ve found that it is not so bad to have class on Saturdays especially because my only class on Saturdays is Art and I have plenty of free periods during the week to explore Uberlingen or hang out with friends. In fact, my schedule here is similar to what one would typically have in college rather than high school, with classes meeting once or twice a week for an hour and a half each meeting. Some days I don’t have a class until noon! They also do something called Dienst here every Monday, which is basically community service. Some people help out with the fire service or mentally ill or at the café on campus as well as many other things. I will be working at the café where I will hopefully make all the drinks correctly; I’m told the coffee machine is idiot-proof.

Sasha Hart - Salem #5

It has been interesting to experience life at a boarding school as everyone at Salem is a boarder. Not only have I gotten to meet people from all over the world, but I’ve also come to learn what it’s like to live at school. It’s great to be able to have your friends just down the hall from you; at the same time, if you’re trying to go to sleep and someone upstairs has just discovered a mouse in their room it might be a little while before you have peace and quiet. I got to be part of my wing’s photo for the yearbook where we all dressed up as stereotypical types of students (nerds, sporty kids etc.). I was supposed to be a stereotypical American high school girl, which to them meant I had to either dress up like the Mean Girls characters or the Gossip Girls characters. I don’t think I pulled off Blair Waldorf’s look but I think they were satisfied with my attempt to look the part.

Sasha Hart - Salem #3

I could go on and on about what is different and what is similar about Salem and Athenian but I’ll leave that for another time. I’ll just briefly mention a couple of things I’ve done since arriving here. After my second week here, I convinced another girl to come with me to tour another town on Lake Constance called Meersburg. There is both a big winery overlooking the lake and an old castle there. The castle is where a famous German poet lived and worked until her death. It was really interesting to look around the castle and see all the different rooms and how they lived back then. As there aren’t any organized excursions for the exchanges here, I’m going to London this coming weekend to visit a family friend and the next weekend I will be staying with Theresa’s (the exchange from Salem at Athenian right now) family in Munich and they are going to show me around there. The weekend after that we have Carnival here at Salem which as I understand it is a weekend of parties where you dress up in costumes and have a good time. Then another week and I will be home.

My time here is flying by and I’m really going to miss all the great people I’ve met here and experiences I’ve had.

Until next time! Auf Wiedersehen!

Gordonstoun: Adventures in Uniform 

by Cade Niles ’16

I’ve been at the Gordonstoun School in Scotland for over five weeks now and I’ve had many notable experiences.

An interesting experience for me has been my participation in seamanship here at Gordonstoun. Seamanship is a three-day training program for all year 10’s in order to prepare them for a larger sailing voyage later in the springtime. Although I will leave for home before this larger sailing trip, I had a fantastic time during those three days. We began our instruction in a small school-owned building near Hopeman Harbor, and then worked our way to the boats. Still in the harbor, we began learning how to operate the many different and complex parts of the boat. Here is a photo of the boats still in the harbor:


boat2Once our instructors were satisfied with our ability to “lower and dip” the sails, we set out into the Moray Firth. (You can look it up on Google maps to get a sense of where that is.) To safely exit the harbor, we had to row for a time. I also enjoyed the rowing quite a lot, strangely. Once we got out into the water, this is what it looked like:

While I have been known to get very seasick in the past—just ask Redden, Addison, Haley, or Abigail–I felt completely fine for the many hours we were out on the water. Unlike a few of my classmates, I was ecstatic to be out on the water instead of in classed. This experience has made me seriously consider taking up both sailing and rowing.


Being at Gordonstoun has made me appreciate both the relaxed environment Athenian creates as well as the democratic nature of the school. There is a uniform at Gordonstoun: black shoes, black slacks, a white button-down shirt, and a blue school sweater. I didn’t really get comfortable in it until four weeks had passed. Being in a uniform every day makes me miss the choice around what I wear to school every day. Over all though, wearing a uniform hasn’t been bad at all.

More notably, I miss the democracy we have at Athenian. It seems to me that Gordonstoun is fairly bureaucratic and that things do not easily change. While many people here comment on how casual Athenian is (calling teachers by their first names), I have to keep reassuring them that our classes are very challenging and we all work very hard. Because of the democratic nature of Athenian, we as a community can assess what needs to change and how. To me, Gordonstoun suffers from doing things traditionally because “that’s how it has been done for a long time.” Athenian benefits from playing largely by its own rules and constantly evolving to better educate its students for the modern world.

photo[1]Both Athenian and Gordonstoun are Round Square schools and both represent the IDEALS in many ways; however, I think that Athenian is more academically challenging. For both schools, service, adventure, and internationalism are all taken very seriously, and time is allotted for students to have opportunities in all of these fields.  In order to make time for these, I believe that Gordonstoun somewhat reduces the difficulty of its academics. I have found that this is one of the main differences between the schools. However, the daily schedule at Gordonstoun is much more full and simply cannot provide the time required for more nightly homework. While this may sound like an insult, I don’t intend it to be and am simply commenting on the different ways each school has decided to spend its students’ time.

photoDorm life has been much more comfortable than I had assumed it would be. I’ve made many great friends in my dorm. It feels a bit like a school trip sometimes, staying in a hotel and joking around with classmates late at night. I am constantly around people my age and it’s a bit liberating to be immature around people who won’t scoff at it.

My time on exchange has taught me how sociable I can be. I’ve been going to Athenian since 6th grade and have only had to make new friends occasionally at summer camps. Never have I had an experience quite like this one. While I was quiet and reserved for a few weeks, I slowly began to extrovert myself and make many new friends. It has been really fantastic to make so many new friends from all around the world. It has given me new confidence and has eased my worries about making friends once I leave for college.

In the past five weeks, I’ve learned a lot about myself. This has been a fantastic experience that I would recommend to all. I anxiously await seeing you all when classes resume in April.

Farewell from Exchange Students

Six students from Australia and South Africa have spent the last six weeks at Athenian on exchange through Round Square. They wrote down some thoughts about their time here before departing for home.

Mumina Tunne – St. Philips School in Australia

IMG_1496♥ My Exchange ♥ – Exchange, to say the least, was an incredible experience.  Leaving Australia all by myself, to meet people I have never met, was very frightening, but my fears quickly diminished when I was met by the warm embrace of Linda and Lauren Glenn.  Being able to share my life for six weeks and envelope myself into their way of being has been a wonderful experience. Never would I have thought that I might have made friends so quickly and friendships so close.  It’s physically hard to leave them behind.  During exchange I experienced things I never did before (e.g. Mexican food, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, Pop Tarts, s’mores, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Arnold Palmers, Panda Express, and a one-night sea kayaking trip organized by the Athenian Adventure Club.)

Being on exchange has helped me grow as a person.  I never knew how much my thoughts and actions are affected by my close family, but being on exchange has taught me to be independent and explore myself more.

It has been all these incredibly unique experiences that have made my exchange such an amazing and unique one, and that I’m forever grateful for.

Megan de Vos – Bridge House School in South Africa

My exchange experience has become so much more meaningful to me than I could have ever imagined—and hearing from previous friends who had the time of their lives, I had high expectations.  And it has exceeded them exponentially!  Athenian has, without the shadow of a doubt, become one of the most important places to me and it will stay in my memory for the rest of my life.

IMG_3200Throughout my experience, I have met some of the most passionate and open-minded people I have ever, and probably will ever, meet in my life.  Something about the overall underlying vibe of this community makes you think twice about everything and ask questions.  Everyone was so welcoming and exciting—which is contradictory to what you expect from a tight-knit school community.  I have bonded with people from all walks of life and my eyes have definitely been opened to the world around me, all thanks to Athenian.

I have truly been spoiled with regards to experiences—from touring the Bay Area endlessly (San Francisco, etc.) to going to Los Angeles.  I have Jim Sternberg, Kathleen Huntington and Tessa Sternberg to thank for being the best host family I could have ever even wished for.  I have truly gotten an incredible American experience.

My time at Athenian will be time I will look back on and cherish forever.  All I can say is THANK YOU for absolutely every moment I got the privilege of spending amongst Athenian students. This is definitely not the last time you will see of me.  I promise to be back and visit soon.

Khanya Nkambule – Stanford Lake College in South Africa

IMG_4766This exchange experience has been something I’d been anticipating for almost a year.  Before arriving, your mind is often filled with questions, wondering about ‘what kind of people you’ll meet,’ ‘whether people will like you or not’ and ‘if you’ll fit in,’ to name just a few.  Coming close to the end of my experience, it’s hard to believe how quickly it’s gone by.  There’s still so much to do, so much to say, but I will have to leave content with what I did do and say.

I’ve loved exchange and it will definitely be hard leaving these surroundings and the friends I’ve made.  The Athenian School has helped me discover new things about myself.  I will forever acknowledge its staff and ethos.  My host family was absolutely lovely and they made me feel very welcome.  I enjoyed visiting Mount Diablo, Sacramento, Berkeley and San Francisco.  Most of all, I have loved making new friends and will always keep them in my heart.

Reneilwe Komape – Stanford Lake College in South Africa

malcolm (15 of 16)The first day of school at Athenian was the worst day ever.  I felt out-of-place and I was so convinced that I wouldn’t go to school the next day!  I eventually adapted to the environment and I actually ended up loving school!  It was because of the people and their smiles. Besides the first day, there has never been a day when I didn’t smile or laugh at Athenian.

One of the things I wanted to do when I was on exchange was to get out of my comfort zone and take on something I thought I’d never be able to do.  So I decided to join cross-country at Athenian!  I was so scared because I heard people say that it was so hard and I won’t survive.  At first I believed them, but then, as crazy as I am, I took on the challenge and I have surely survived and enjoyed every moment of it.  I have courage and stretched myself beyond the ordinary.  This is one of my home school values that I put into practice when I was on exchange.

Athenian really opened my eyes and changed my view on some things.  The work load at Athenian is way more compared to my school!  And the way the students take school way serious motivated me to want to do better than I did before I came on exchange!

Amy Bower – Westminster School in Australia

Coming to Athenian was an overall amazing experience.  As Athenian is so different from my school back in Australia, it was great to experience your school and how you do things.  Everybody at Athenian has been so welcoming and have all been super friendly towards all of the exchanges.

My favorite part of being on exchange has been visiting downtown San Francisco and making friends that I know I will keep in touch with for a long time to come and hopefully see again someday.  It has been interesting to learn new ‘American’ words and teach other people our ‘Australian’ words. There has been a few embarrassing misunderstandings along the way that I know I will forever remember.

My time here has made me a more independent person, after traveling through LAX and Miami airport alone. 

I have also opened my eyes to the less fortunate people living on the streets and have become a more compassionate person after visiting Glide and Saint Anthony’s for community service.  I loved visiting both facilities and feel like I have a better understanding of what it is like to be a homeless person living on the streets of San Francisco.

Nick Harris – Westminster School in Australia

My favorite thing about doing this Round Square exchange with the Athenian School has been the life-long friendships I have made with many amazing Athenian students over the 7 weeks I have been here.

The main differences have been having to start school an hour earlier, the way the classes are run, and how everything is upside down or opposite (e.g. the light switches are upside down and the steering wheels and cars are on the “wrong” side of the road). 

I have learned that no matter where you go in the world, as long as the people around you are fun and caring, you will have an amazing experience. 

The Golden Gate Bridge and the city of San Francisco are all amazing.

I will be back that is for sure …

Billanook College Students Teach Australian Football

Twenty-four high school students from Billanook College, a Round Square school in Melbourne Australia, visited Athenian this week. On a Bay Area stopover on their way to Vancouver, the Australian students spent a day at Athenian, teaching Middle School P.E. classes, lunching with Upper Schoolers, and playing Australian football. They brought with them 30 Australian footballs which they donated to the school. Thank you, Billanook students, for sharing your experience and athletic equipment with Athenian!

Read more about international Round Square experiences at Athenian:

Netball, Saturday School, Tea and Uniforms: Study Abroad in the United Kingdom

The Beat Goes On…Athenian Students Get Into the Rhythm of South Africa

Wishes for the World

Athenians on Exchange

Haley Goes to India