International Community Coffee Mornings

A Meet and Greet with Jean Kwok, author of Girl in Translation

Yesterday, bestselling author Jean Kwok visited ISA for a meet and greet session with grades 10, 11 and 12. It was a wonderful opportunity for a few of the ISA Upper School students, some of whom are studying Jean’s internationally successful novel Girl in Translation as part of their English B course, to ask in-depth questions about the book and the author’s life.

Jean Kwok visits ISA.

As a follow up to the formal meet and greet sessions, four students were given the opportunity to attend a small, intimate lunch with Jean as a reward for their hard work and to ask her questions about her twin passions–writing and dancing. Having all danced from a young age, three of the students discovered that Jean shared their passion and gained insight from her about the competitive nature of professional ballroom dancing.

For most ISA students, Jean is a highly relatable figure. A Chinese immigrant to the US at the age of five, Jean left behind everything she knew at home and arrived into a whole new world, with an alien language and culture. Not only did the students have a chance to learn more for their coursework, but they also received some powerful and inspiring life advice from Jean.

Jean began by telling the story of her own life and the extent to which Girl in Translation is based on reality. She discussed her experience as an impoverished immigrant in the US, where her entire family worked in a clothing factory for as little as 1c per piece of clothing they produced. She described feeling ‘all wrong’, with her handmade clothes and short hair, which left her feeling isolated and an outsider to American culture. This is reflected in her protagonist Kim’s own feelings in the novel.

The picture of squalor Jean paints in her book, including the apartment ‘from hell’, filled with roaches and rats, where Kim and her mother have to ‘seal the windows in the kitchen with garbage bags’ for ‘a bit more protection from the elements’ is absolutely true to life, Jean explained.

Before meeting Jean, it might have been easy  for the students to dismiss Jean’s experiences as unique or rare, or to argue that times have changed since her childhood. However, with an estimated 170 million children across the globe still engaged in child labour, with many of these employed in the clothing supply chain, Jean’s emphasis that ‘this can and does happen’ certainly remains pertinent today. She explained that her work is for people without a voice; for the working-class people who don’t have their stories told.

What was really striking about Jean’s talk was her passion and enthusiasm, not just for writing, but also simply for life. Jean argued that while hard work itself is not fun, the deepest happiness comes from the knowledge that you are fulfilling what you were meant to do, to the best that you can do it. Everybody fails at things, she said, but success comes from resilience; successful people are the ones who get back up again. Her most powerful advice to the students: you’re the only one who can give up on yourself.


Further Reading

To find out more about Jean, you can visit her website:—ed_norm/—ipec/documents/publication/wcms_221513.pdf


Written by Megan Amelia

Grade 9 Students Visit Kamp Westerbork Memorial Centre

On Thursday 12th October, 2017, Grade 9 travelled to the Kamp Westerbork Memorial Centre, in the province of Drenthe. From 1942 to 1944, Westerbork served as a transit camp for Dutch Jews before they were deported to killing centres in German-occupied Poland. As such, this is a highly significant historical site. Students were given a tour of the site of the former camp by experienced educators and also watched a film which showed rare footage of Dutch Jews leaving Westerbork for Auschwitz.

This visit gave our students a valuable opportunity to gain understanding of the Statement of Inquiry for our current unit ‘Global conflagration in the twentieth century’: ‘When leaders seek power through the choice of isolation and discrimination, this can often lead to significant levels of change and global conflict.’ This visit deepened our understanding of how certain conditions in society may lead to the rise of extreme consequences.

Below are reflections of some of our students, who share the programme for the day and what they learnt about the concepts of isolation, change and choice:

During the Westerbork trip, we walked along the long trail all the way to the camp itself- in a way creating a feeling as if we were the prisoners making the journey, because it was all very isolated and it was a long way there. We listened as a guide walked us through the different parts of the camp and monuments and explained the story behind everything. From this trip, I learned that the Nazis made Westerbork a ‘safer’ place to keep the Jews in comparison to the main concentration camps and Ghettos, because they wanted the Jews to trust that the place that they were going to by train was going to be similar. They held sporting activities, provided entertainment and even had a hospital where they took care of the sick.

After we were done with the tour and had seen the very end of the railroad tracks that are now cut off, we started our walk back. We then saw an image of the whole camp, that was taken at the time of its use, from the same spot we were then standing in and it created an emotional and impactful image in my mind: everything really had occurred here once, and we were standing right on it.  – Elena Chova Badia

We learned why and how Westerbork was used: the role of the camp in the Second World War. It was deliberately placed far away from civilisation to distance the Jews and gypsies from the so-called “pure” nation.  Two memorable moments of the trip were seeing the stone and the railway memorials. The stone memorial was made up of many red blocks in the ground, each with either a Jewish star, flame, or nothing on top. The Jewish stars symbolise the Jews brought to the camp, the flame the gypsies, and the blank stones the ones who resisted. It is a tribute to all who died. The railway symbolised all the train wagons taking Jewish children, women and men to death camps. These were memorable because they were very powerful in their symbolism. – Emma Keerberg


I learned that around 100,000 Jews were sent to their deaths from the Westerbork transit camp. I also learned that Anne Frank was imprisoned there at one point and that, strangely, Camp Westerbork wasn’t even the worst of places. Jews were treated decently here but then usually gassed immediately after they arrived at their death camps. A memorable moment was the train which was there. It was calling out all the names of the people who were there and it gave me goosebumps because of how young some of the people were. One story I found interesting was the one about the baby who got very good care, which was most likely expensive, at Westerbork but after being treated well by the German camp commandant was then transported to a death camp and killed. Lastly, the long trip there gave me a sense of how isolated they must have felt for the short period they were there. – Olivier Van Oijen


Article by:  Joanne Gogelescu, ISA Individuals and Societies Faculty

Many hands contribute to a great afternoon at Ghana charity concert

ISA hosted the 3rd annual Ghana charity concert on Saturday 20 May, featuring the local Ghanaian choir, Inspirational Voices, and various musical groups from the Lower School. The concert has become a popular feature on the ISA calendar and raises funds for the Nunya Academy in Ghana.

Organised by ISA Music teacher, Fabian Galli, the event also featured Kofi Gbolonyo, who has long been involved with ISA and has been instrumental in the creation of this fundraising initiative. Mr Gbolonyo was able to spend some time at the school to join in the music classes, share stories from the Ghanaian culture and perform in the concert as well.

A traditional Ghanaian (Ewe) proverb says, “Knowledge is like a baobab tree, one person’s hands cannot embrace it” and this was well and truly reflected in the many hands that contributed to a fantastic performance. It was a fabulous display of colour, music and dazzling dance from all involved, including the Lower School choir, the Kufara Marimba Group, Junior and Lower School percussion groups, and Marimba Mania, a performing group comprised of ISA parents and staff.

The event raised €4.435 for the Nunya Academy which will go towards continuing the building work that commenced in 2015, through funds raised by previous years’ concerts. The 2015 concert was featured in our Connections magazine. Since that time, ISA has continued to host events that help Mr Gbolonyo in his quest to build a music academy in his home community of Dzodze, Ghana. At its conclusion, Mr Gbolonyo extended his gratitude to all who were involved in making this year’s Ghana charity concert a very memorable one.

“I never expected such a high quality and high level of musical and performance expertise and skills from the students. The enthusiasm and dedication from the students, parent volunteers and teachers to the whole process: from the preparations to the final show far exceeded my expectations.”

Congratulations to all the students who performed and to Fabian, Aideen Nolan and Judy O’Callaghan, and the fantastic parents volunteers who gave their time to help make this event a great success. 


ISA Green Team springs to a successful start of the year

The first half of 2017 has been a successful and busy period for the ISA Green Team with a number of successful events, presentations and fundraisers highlighting the school’s commitment to sustainability and environmental awareness.

The ISA Green Team hosted its annual Room to Read Book Sale in April this year, with thousands of books donated by the ISA community. It was a wonderful success, raising €7520 which will be distributed to Room to Read, a charity that provides educational scholarships for girls in developing communities.

Grade 2 student, Noga, thanked everyone who helped support the book sale, “the book sale was brilliant because we got to buy books at a great price and it was a great way donate money to help send girls to school.”

Not willing to solely rest on the success of the Book Sale, grades 2 and 3 Green Team members also hosted a parent workshop that featured over 20 tables filled with informative projects developed by the students. For the workshop, students brainstormed their passions and created group projects that highlighted environmental challenges and promoted sustainability and eco-awareness. Some of the projects included ‘Save Our Bees’ providing information about the importance of bees; ‘Lost and Found: Label Your Things’ promoting responsibility for personal items to avoid waste; and ‘Cafeteria Clean Up’, a project encouraging other students to clean up after themselves in the cafeteria.

Teaching students to think about real-world environmental challenges is reflected throughout the ISA Curriculum, particularly in the Primary Years Programme (PYP) Transdisciplinary Theme called “Sharing the Planet” which explores questions such as to how to share the finite resources of the world with all its living inhabitants. In 2016, a new strand was also added to the Social Studies Curriculum for Preschool through to grade 5 called ‘Resources and the Environment’.

Lower School Green Team Coordinator, Marta van der Meer said that being active in the Green Team provided students with another learning platform to expand on their curriculum. “The students learn through their own inquiries and discover new passions, all the while learning that they have a voice and they can make a difference.”

The Green Team has also been busily involved in other events including the second ISA Beach Clean Up which saw a large number of students, parents and staff visit Zandvoort in May to help collect all manner of beach waste while raising awareness for cleaner oceans and waterways. The vegetable and herb gardens at ISA are also flourishing in the springtime with students using their green thumbs to carefully tend to the gardens. The Green Team is a great example of the different ways that students and staff engage with real-world environmental issues to help make a difference, reflecting ISA’s commitment to building sustainable futures and communities through a variety of local projects and eco-initiatives.

Congolese refugee shares story of risk and perseverance with ISA students

Grade 3 students and Upper School French-language students were given an insight into the first-hand experiences of an asylum seeker when Justin, a Congolese refugee, visited ISAthe school to share his story.

Brett Preiss, ISA Lower School English as an Additional Language teacher, invited Justin to come and speak with his grade 3 students as part of their recent unit of inquiry, Believe it or Not. The unit explores students’ understanding of beliefs and belief systems and challenges them to see how this affects their own lives and the broader world in which they live.  

“We wanted to invite Justin to share his experiences and how his similar or different his beliefs and values are to those of the children.” noted Preiss.

Justin left the Republic of the Congo five years ago, and arrived in the Netherlands without a home, his family, or any local knowledge of the Dutch culture or language. In the years that followed, he was able to teach himself English and Dutch, and took advantage of social opportunities opportunities to integrate himself in the community, including joining acting classes where he met  that are also attended by Preiss.

Applying the PYP to Real Life

The PYP curriculum has a strong focus on the 10 IB Learner Profile Attributes—inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective. Preiss chose to use these attributes as a tool for guiding the discussion with his young students.

We focused on the IB Learner Profile attributes and asked Justin to share how he has been a risk-taker by leaving his family and country, and moving to a totally new land.” explained Preiss.

Being an international school, this concept of relocation was familiar to the students. However, the circumstances in which Justin had to move gave them new insight into how his journey to Holland differed from theirs and allowed them to reflect on the plight of refugees and the sacrifices they must make to start life over again in a new home.

“Justin also emphasised another attribute by discussing how caring he wants to be by improving himself and his life so that he could one day be in a position to care for his family back in the Republic of the Congo.”

To that end, the school also connected Justin with the ISA IT team, after learning of his interest in video editing and development. He was shown some of the latest editing tools and software used in an ISA student’s daily life to guide him on the technologies that are shaping the future.

Preiss hopes that Justin’s connection with both his students and the Upper School French classes made a lasting impression and that both he and ISA can continue to help Justin and other refugees to get their stories out there to discover new connections in the Netherlands as they build their lives.

Justin also showed a keen interest in video editing and development, so during his visit to ISA, he was able to connect with one of the IT Station staff who showed him some of the editing tools and software used at the school.

Mr Preiss said that he invited Justin to present to students in Grade 3 who have been learning about different beliefs through a unit of inquiry called, ‘Believe It or Not’.

“We wanted to invite Justin to share his experiences and how his similar or different his beliefs and values are to the children. We also focus on the Learner Profile attributes and we wanted Justin to share how he has been a risk-taker by leaving his family and country, and moving to a totally new land. Justin also emphasised how caring he wants to be by improving himself and his life so that he could one day be in a position to care for his family back in the Republic of the Congo.”

Students and staff all relished the opportunity to listen to and learn something new from Justin, and while his story was at times challenging and confronting, there was opportunity to be inspired by his incredible story of perseverance through adversity.

“For Justin, this visit was a really memorable and rewarding experience, because he truly believes his story should be shared and that by doing so he is able to help our students and others appreciate what they have” noted Preiss.

“He wants to inspire others to help each other and I think he has done that. I know I’ve been inspired by the fact that he has been able to remain true to himself and his beliefs and values, despite having everything taken away from him. He’s overcome obstacles  and really taught the children that once you achieve something you really should give back to help make things better in this world.”


ISA Students explore solutions to Global Issues at GIN Conference

From 23-25 March, eight ISA students represented the school at the annual European Global Issues Network (GIN) conference at the Chamber of Commerce in Luxembourg. The conference was a culmination of several months of brainstorming, planning and student-led activities aimed at providing a solution to one of the 20 global issues that form the foundation of GIN.

This year’s theme was Facilitating Sustainable Change through Education and Integration. Students developed two projects that demonstrated their practical knowledge of the topic and how to apply their own solution through service in the local community. Both ISA projects explored ways to overcome linguistic barriers when interacting with a local Dutch-speaking environment.

“It was interesting to see which other projects were developed by other schools. It was a good way to learn from others and inspired our groups to look at new ways to develop our projects. I felt very happy with our project after presenting it at the conference,” said Hannah Boyles, one of the ISA students who  attended the conference.

The first project explored the integration of different ISA-related communities through interaction with Art. The group visited De Schakel, an Amstelveen-based activity centre for adults with mental disabilities, where they interacted with a group of painters, and later  visited Klaasje Zevenster, a local elderly centre.

The second project was a collaboration between the ISA GIN students and the independently-run Refugee Buddy Project, which attempts to bridge the gap between the international ISA community and the local refugee community in Amstelveen. ISA students have partnered with refugee students from a local high school for various social activities such as a community concert, a movie night and recently a cooking session at the school.

Another ISA student, Bailey Ransom said the experience was beneficial to all involved because it enabled the international community at ISA to interact with the local Dutch community.

Eight students from ISA travelled to Luxembourg to present at the conference, however there were numerous other students involved in the projects and activities demonstrating the students’ commitment to engaging with their local community and exploring innovative solutions to issues of global importance.

Kindergarten students transform ISA into a modern art gallery

Art serves as a bridge across cultures—communicating the emotions, experiences and perspectives of the artists to the world around them. At ISA, the arts play an integral part in the Primary Years, Middle Years and Diploma programmes, allowing students of all ages to creatively share their own views through various media.

Each year ISA’s Kindergarten students, under the guidance of Lower School Visual Arts teacher Frankie Rees, explore how art can be used to as a form of communication through the study of Dutch artist, Vincent Van Gogh. Working with their homeroom teachers and in their dedicated art classes, the students create individual art pieces, inspired by Van Gogh, that reflect the learnings in the unit of inquiry (Find out from Frankie what this was).

Gaining inspiration from class discussions and a field trip to the world-renowned Van Gogh Museum, the student extended (name of Unit) to artworks which they displayed for the entire ISA community in a full-scale art gallery set up in the school’s main foyer in March.

Rees was more than impressed. “The Kindergarten artists were able to explore their creative process with all of the students produced a very special painting, on canvas, using acrylic paint and gel medium.”

“They learned how to use palette knives to add shape and texture to their flower forms and experimented with colour mixing and value. To see their own work exhibited in the school foyer was so exciting for the children and their families.”

Parents, staff and students who attended the gallery throughout the week were all extremely impressed by the range of artworks.

“It was really wonderful to see how the kindergarteners have taken such pride in their work and exhibiting each students work showcases  how each of them have grown throughout the process.” noted Rika Maja Duevel, ISA Upper School Visual Arts teacher.

“As a teacher who has taught both kindergarten visual arts in the Primary Years Programme and the Diploma Visual Art programme I have seen just how important the exhibition component is to students. In the final year of the Diploma Programme students are both showcasing their work and also curating their shows. Building links between museum visits, artists, and creating is an invaluable experience for any age and I’m happy our kindergarteners.”

ISA special olympics a special success

For the past 19 years, the ISA Special Olympics has been a highlight of the school calendar, with students from ISA and the van Koetsveld school in The Hague coming together to host a day of games and sports activities for local children and adults with disabilities.

On Saturday, 4 March, the ISA Special Olympics Club members, along with creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) students participated in this year’s Special Olympics led by ISA English teacher, Jennifer Gryzenhout and Pre-school teacher Eli Arenas Thomas.

One of the school’s strongest and longest-running community service projects, the day offers students the chance to engage with the local community while also experiencing the value of inclusion, connection and diversity. This year’s Special Olympics was created around the theme of “outer space” and ISA students decorated the foyer and annex and set up a range of fun and engaging activities and games. The support of students and volunteer parents who helped with the organisation of the event and the packing of lunchboxes was appreciated by all involved.

Jennifer Gryzenhout said she was very proud of the efforts of ISA students who rise to the challenges of staging the day with dedication, making a real difference to the lives of those who participated.

“The Special Olympics is a truly memorable event, with a lot of laughter and broad smiles at the end of the day. ISA students enjoyed the day almost as much as our guests! They interacted with our guest children with enthusiasm, responsibility and in the spirit of joy and inclusion.”

Next year’s event is looking to be even bigger and better as we celebrate 20 years of the ISA Special Olympics!

Launch of New ISA Alumni Platform

On the heels of their first Alumni Reception in London, the ISA Alumni team has just launched the ISA Alumni platform – a website that serves as the go to place for alumni to share their experiences, connect with old and new friends and remain a part of ISA’s enduring legacy to educate for international understanding.

The platform encourages alumni to connect with former classmates, parents and teachers and engage in the ISA community to promote ISA’s mission. The ISA Alumni platform is open to anyone who has ever been a part of the ISA community – parents, former faculty and staff, and of course, students, including those who have graduated as well as any student who ever attended ISA. The online platform will provide a range of opportunities for alumni to collaborate, network and share stories about their journeys since leaving ISA.

Some highlights include:

  • Electronic yearbooks from nearly every year at ISA
  • Links to the latest ISA news and communications
  • Photos from past events and ISA’s history
  • A directory of alumni on the platform
  • Easy messaging options

In the next couple of weeks, the platform will be coupled with a mobile app – making it even easier for ISA’s alumni to stay in contact with each other!

All alumni are encouraged to sign up at