Samantha Brossette, High School & College/University Counsellor At The International School Of Belgrade:

School As An Inspiration

“The most important advice I can offer students is to begin the process of university preparation early,” says ISB High School & College/University Counsellor Samantha Brossette.

When the name of the International School of Belgrade is mentioned to ordinary citizens, it sounds to them like something akin to Oxford in the UK – equally as “far away” and equally “unreachable”. However, the reality is different. This school, which is attended by children aged from three to 18, is traditionally more “Belgrade” and “Serbian” than many local schools, while by reputation it is “global”. Founded back in 1948, with the aim of providing a high-quality education to children of the international community in Belgrade, ISB creates an inspiring, student-centred and individualised approach to the learning process.In this interview for CorD, responding to the question of how ISB copes with so many different cultures, religions, ways of thinking, and lifestyles – considering that pupils come from the most diverse parts of the world – Samantha Brossette answers simply.

My first inclination is to applaud the parents of our students.

– When they enrol their children here, they fully understand and embrace the concept that not only are their children spending every day with students from multiple nationalities and speaking multiple languages, but they are also embracing the idea of their children being exposed to and taught from intercultural perspectives and educational philosophies that could indeed differ greatly from their own. Likewise, as teachers, support staff and administrators, we intentionally chose a career which provides this amazing opportunity for us to live in a foreign country and also engage with people every day who encourage us and challenge us to consider differing perspectives, as well as providing us with the ability to see the world through different lenses. We actively teach and encourage an ethos of curiosity, acceptance and celebration of other nationalities, which is facilitated both within the classroom and without, and is also demonstrated through our International Day here at ISB. In our increasingly global society, this exposure to, and conceptualisation of, differing ideologies – be they regarding education, religion, political thought and so on – gives our students a brilliant advantage in terms of being and becoming global citizens. Additionally, most of our students opt to attend tertiary education in a foreign country; therefore, our international environment prepares them wonderfully for this experience.

There is no question that our students are very fortunate, but – like all school-aged children around the world – they are growing and learning to become responsible, kind and hardworking people

On the other hand, as we have already mentioned, the perception of ISB is such that it appears to be a haven for children and teenagers who have no problems in life whatsoever. What specific problems do your pupils face; what problems do they come to you with, as a psychologist, for help?

– While ISB is indeed a vibrant academic institution, it would of course be remiss to state that our students have no issues whatsoever. There is no question that our students are very fortunate, but – like all school-aged children around the world – they are growing and learning to become responsible, kind and hardworking people; none are exempt from “growing pains.” Many of our students are what we call “third culture kids” meaning they are being raised in a culture outside their own; this can certainly present challenges at times. Likewise, many of our students frequently move, due to their parents’ employment; this process of adapting to a new environment, making new friends, packing up and doing it all over again can be very daunting for some children. In my many years working with children and having lived in a culture outside my own as well when I was a young person, I fully understand that the strong need to feel accepted and to “fit in” has a profound impact on our students. Perhaps surprisingly, anxiety is an increasingly problematic issue that children deal with. Research literature, as well as my own clinical experience, reveals that even though children may seem to be coping externally, there exist internal struggles which children need some support to get through. We, as parents, often forget that things which may seem small or insignificant from our perspective may be colossal from the perspective of a young person. This is merely one of the reasons why it is so very important to maintain close and communicative relationships with our children.

Considering that one of your fields of expertise is also university enrolment counselling, what kind of specific advice do children seek when discussing their further schooling and what do you help them with specifically? Students have a myriad of questions regarding their future and higher education.

– Our students have so many opportunities available to them in terms of where they wish to study, I believe this to be their greatest source of questioning: which nations’ approach to university is the best fit for them individually. Naturally, broaching the topic of where to study evokes questions around scholarships, particularly regarding U.S. universities, as they can be extremely expensive. They are curious about what kinds of doors will be opened to them with regard to where and what they will study.

The most important advice I can offer students is to begin the process of university preparation early. Typically, students begin building their university profile in grade 9 – considering participation in extracurricular activities, leadership, volunteering and the like, and most certainly academic excellence. Administration of aptitude tests is additionally important, since the application of these provides them with knowledge about themselves, and possibilities for the future which they otherwise may not have known existed.

ISB is a comprehensive International Baccalaureate School, which means our school has adapted an internationally-recognised curriculum that “offers highly respected programmes of international education which develop the intellectual, personal emotional and social skills needed to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalising world”.

Would you say that the ISB education system and curriculum are adaptable; flexible in terms of adapting to the enormous changes we are witnessing globally?

– ISB is a comprehensive International Baccalaureate School, which means our school has adapted an internationally recognised curriculum that “offers highly respected programmes of international education which develop the intellectual, personal emotional and social skills needed to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalising world”. The programme begins with this philosophy in primary school and culminates with a rigorous university preparation diploma programme for years 11 and 12, in which pupils are able to choose courses that are interesting to them, but also will benefit them in terms of university admissions and future educational and career goals. Perhaps many of you have read at least one of the multiple reports written regarding Finland’s exquisite education system? I believe that ISB in many ways follows this trajectory, in terms of inquiry-based, project learning practises. Just this week our middle years’ programme director presented a pilot initiative of inquiry-based learning in which students will create projects through which they integrate several core subjects. This kind of hands-on approach to integrated learning offers students a “real world” approach to critical thinking, synthesising and team effort – elements that will be required when they one day enter the workplace.