World’s Largest, Oldest International School Provides a Global Education

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courtesy of Ecolint

Too tall, too smart, too athletic as a girl I felt too big to squeeze into the gender constraints of the 60s until Title IX (1972) opened doors providing equal opportunity in education and sport in America’s schools. In pursuit of a dream once denied in my homeland, I moved abroad three decades ago. After a globetrotting athletic career, I found a home at the world’s oldest and largest international school at the Ecole Internationale de Genève (Ecolint), a bilingual school with instruction in French and English.

Founded in 1924, the school grew from its humble beginnings of 8 students, 3 teachers and a rabbit to  3 large campuses: La Grand Boissière and Campus des Nations (2005) in Geneva, and La Châtaigneraie (1970) in the Canton Vaud. Our 4,380 students represent a world record of 135 different nationalities speaking 84 different mother tongues.

“In 1920-1921, the League of Nations and the International Labour Office (ILO) established their headquarters in Geneva with staff drawn from many countries. This created the need to cater for students with a diversity of cultures preparing them for university education in their home countries.”

Our tenets are imbedded with Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s (1712-1778) theories of education.

Arthur Sweetser, an American war correspondent during WWI, who became the unofficial ambassador to the League of Nations (1919-39), advocated for international education in conjunction with Adolphe Ferriere and Elisabeth Rotten. Dr. Ludwig Rajchman (Poland), William Rappard, Rector of the University of Geneva, and Sir Arthur Salter, a senior official of the League of Nations were also involved in the creation of the school.

Another American, Robert Leach (1916-2004) a social studies teacher, became the father of the International Baccalaureate designed to help students develop their intellectual, personal, emotional, and social abilities. The acclaimed diploma, once considered a pie-in-the-sky idea, is now recognized worldwide. One million students are enrolled in its programs and over a 100,000 students sit the exams. Yet, few schools can match our school’s 96% graduation rate.

The Ecolint code we uphold that speaks loudest to me is Article 4 point 4 of our charter.

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courtesy of Ecolint

“The activity of school in all fields and especially in the field of pedagogy shall be based on the principles of equality and solidarity among all peoples and of the equal value of all human beings without any distinction of nationality, race, sex, language or religion.”

As Vicky Tuck, our General Director, states on our website, “We seek to give all our students the opportunity to experience a unique international education and to acquire the personal attributes, outlook and knowledge that will equip them to play an active part in the construction of tomorrow’s world.”

Many of our former students went onto make a global impact in the arts, sciences and diplomacy such as Indira Gandhi (1917-1984) former Prime Minister of India. Michael Douglas, an Oscar-winning and Emmy Award-nominated American actor and producer, Elizabeth Frank, Pulitzer Prize winning author: Norman Schwarzkopf  commander in chief of US and coalition troops, Operation Desert Storm, and Joakim Noah – NCAA division 1 basketball MVP of the final four 2006 and NBA star for the Chicago Bulls for the past 4 seasons, all have made an impact in their fields. Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations and Macalester College alumni, served on the Ecolint board from 1981-83.

Each day as I walk into a classroom filled with students reflecting faces of the world, I am humbled by the magnitude of our mission. Though I am the teacher, I learn just as much from by my global-minded students, who speak multiple languages, carry several passports and have lived on different continents before entering secondary school.

Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas meet on the campus' court

Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas meet on the campus’ court

As a Norwegian-American married to a Frenchman, raising our kids with an international education in the bucolic countryside of a neutral country was idyllic. Like so many of our alumni, my own children, one a pediatrician advocating for healthcare for underprivileged children in the St.Paul-Minneapolis area and the other an educator in the making, pay it forward in their own lives. Unlike students who attend school in homogenous communities, international education taught tolerance by exposing them to pupils of other cultural beliefs and traditions, who then became friends. Today, Nathalie understands her Somali refugee patients, and not only because she speaks French. Nic is especially sensitive to the needs of his African American, Hmong and Latino students.

Ecolint sets high standards for its staff and students in an attempt to uphold such lofty ideals in a tenuous time of world unrest and conflicting ideologies. We do our best to meet the challenge of contributing to a better world, one child at a time.

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27 Comments

  1. It was a privilege to work in that global village called La Chataigneraie alongside you Pat xx teaching Aussie wannabe educators now, I draw on my international experiences every day and pass them on…
    Hugs, Rach xx

    • Isn’t life amazing, Rach. You once supervised Australian student teachers in Switzerland and now you are training the Aussies in their homeland. They are lucky to have you.

  2. An amazing and unparalleled educational experience.

    My uncle made his fortune in Europe while I was growing up. My three (female) cousins went to International Schools in Spain and Germany. They had an excellent education. My own public school education paled in comparison. Then onto a private Jesuit college (yes, I am Jewish, but it WAS a great school) where I was whipped into shape in 4 years. Ahhh.

    Wonderful post.

    • How interesting Cathy. What business did your uncle make his fortune in? Do you know if your cousin went to the International School of Frankfurt or Munich? When I lived in Paris, the teams I coached used to compete there.

    • Carol, with your YWCA platform of equality and tolerance for all and your French language background, you would love our school and feel right at home.

  3. Super Pat. So interesting to learn about this and to share the life you have chosen. I know a minority of people who made unconventional choices and I love spending time with them. They are not afraid of their shadow.

    • Patricia, I am about as unconventional as they come. But it has taken a lifetime to realize that it is okay to be different. And now I try to help others learn to embrace their shadows, too.

  4. Fascinating. Makes me wish I could start over and go to school there. I have a dear friend who’s a chemistry professor that brought the IB program to Fairhope, Alabama. I’ll share your post with her so she can see where it was born.

    • Oh,Connie, this warmed my heart to think that you are sharing my post with the chemistry prof who brought the IB to Fairhope. What an undertaking to launch that program at her school. Hats goes off to her.

    • Oh Bonnie, if you only knew how many rough spots I have hit in my “charmed” life. But I try to always focus on the positive. Like you!

  5. What a fascinating glimpse into this school, Pat! And what an impressive roster of alumni! Keep up the good work.

      • He’s settling in, Pat, thanks for asking! It’s a different world from that of being a student — as you know — but he’s adjusting. Lots of orientations, online learning, etc. at the beginning when he’d probably prefer to jump right in and work. We’re not known for our patience, ha!

  6. How impressive, and how wonderful that you are in a profession about which you are passionate. You and your family, and your school, are a bright spot in an increasingly frightening and complicated world.

  7. I don’t think there’s anything more inspiring than a teacher who loves her job and holds her school in the highest regard. Your love for your profession and where you practice it is clear.

    • I come from a long line of teachers…my grandparents, parents, sisters and son were/are teachers. Maybe it is in the blood… I know I have been inspired by the teachers in my family.

  8. I wish I could have sent my daughters to such a school as yours. I wanted to send them to France to study for a year and stay with my mom in Paris, but the schools there said that coming from the US they would have to take 2 years remedial, or be in a class 2 years below their grade here, so they did not go and don’t speak French. But since I worked with trainees from all over the world they met people from many countries. I feel bad for kids who are “home schooled” because they don’t meet many kids from other cultures. I know how gratified you must be to work with such different students.

    • Oh yes, it is always tricky when transferring to another school especially when crossing national borders. The international schools in Europe are aware of this and very accommodating to students in transit between countries and school systems, but the public schools have more difficulty with this issue. With your vababonde spirit, I am sure your daughters were open to other cultures and ideas. Did they inherit your wanderlust, too?

  9. How wonderful for your students .. and for you. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if more schools embraced and celebrated diversity? Your mention of the Hmong reminded me of an amazing book I read some years ago about their culture — The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down — which is what they called epileptic seizures. Have you read it, Pat?

    • Yes, Helene, and I loved that book. I am going to recommend it to my son to read. School seems like the best place to celebrate our diversity…what better lesson for children.

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