Every school in the world has a fair of some description, whether that’s a Summer Fayre, a Christmas Bazaar or an Easter Egg-stravaganza. At some stage in the school calendar there is a get together, a chance for a bit of fundraising, a bit of socialising, a bit of teamwork and an opportunity for the members of the parents association to show their mettle. The International School of Zug and Luzern doesn’t so much have a fair as a summer spectacular, this is International Day.
At ISZL the PA is funded by a compulsory contribution from the parents at the beginning of the school year and is proportionate to the number of children you have attending the school. For their money the children get things like ice lollies on sports day and the parents get membership to an active school community, the importance of which should not be underestimated when there is no personal support network and making local friends is a struggle as the language is so emphatically not ones own. At ISZL the PA has run a huge variety of events ranging from the Festive Shop at Christmas, the Gala (which raised over 70,000 chf for the Fund for Excellence) and staff appreciation lunches to name a few. The International Day has been the one event that has been hugely anticipated all year. So. Huge disappointment? or source of great delight? Well…
In the run up to International Day every parent suffers a deluge of contact from the schools country representatives and Parents Association with requests for time and food donations. I always take the attitude that the more you put into something, the more you get out of it and so whilst I didn’t respond to every request by any stretch I did volunteer to help with the set up the day before. To be honest all I had to do was help lug the gazebos from the store cupboard to the playground, so not really very taxing. The playground was a hive of activity with marquees being erected left right and centre, and a CocaCola lorry turning up in the midst of it all like something out of the Christmas advert (bit early this year what with it being June and all!). It was then that it dawned on me that this really was a huge event. When we left school that afternoon the marquees were up, the stage was up, the seating was out and you could smell the anticipation in the air (unless that was the scent of workman following their speedy erections?!?).
The next day, International Day, dawned not bright and sunny but overcast and a bit drizzly and we debated about going at all. However, having paid our 25chf (each) for the children’s wristbands and with Steve away, we set off and I’m genuinely glad that we did. The children had an amazing time. Bouncy castles, an inflatable boxing ring, a foam sumo wrestling game, Intersoccer football skills, tombola, face painting, balloon darts and a host of activities organised by the High School raising funds and awareness for a variety of charities. In addition every nation was represented by the provision of food stalls so the Brits were selling PG Tips, Pimms, Walkers crisps and bacon butties; the Japanese selling sushi boxes; the Italians offering pizza just like mama made; the Americans selling every indulgence possible: hotdogs, popcorn, cookies, cupcakes. You could literally eat your way round the world. Whilst your taste buds were being amused the stage was a continuous stream of talent ranging from a local Alphorn band to a selection of ISZL pupils brave enough to take to the stage and perform a song or a dance. I think that they call it multi-sensory dining, and I know that you’d normally pay a fortune for the experience! My highlight? The Principle’s Tommy Cooper joke* to kick off proceedings (sorry, how English of me).
Whilst wandering round the stalls it dawned on me just how patriotic expats are. It amuses me to think that national stereotypes were being encouraged, and exaggerated. The food stalls were a source not just of food but of national pride, no one wanting to let down their compatriots. I wondered just how patriotic we would really be if we had never left our homelands. Are we all guilty of wearing rose tinted glasses? Does it matter? We all want to feel as if we belong, to have an identity that has a context. We also want our children to have some understanding of what it means to be British, or American, or Spanish, or Hungarian. Do they, and do we, have a stronger understanding of this having not lived in the country for a period of time, or, in many cases, at all?
Ultimately International Day is an event to entertain and bring the whole school community together, but in reality it is so much more. It allowed people far removed from their homes to recreate and indulge in the best bits. After all food is the way to the heart. It allowed a disparate groups of people to reconnect with their national identity. To find comfort in the presence of hundreds of strangers.
*I know some will want to hear it so… A man went to the doctor’s he said “I have broken my arm in several places”. The Doctor said “Well you shouldn’t go to those places.”