The day on which Britain severs her formal ties with the European Union is, by any measure, a milestone in our unfolding history, which cannot pass unremarked. Brexit will change Britain – its society, economy and culture – in ways we have yet to comprehend. What we do know, though, is that the insularity that has often defined us in the past will not serve us, individually or collectively, in this brave new go-it-alone world.
I often say to my students that it is far better to be a traveller than a tourist. The tourist, ill-prepared and lacking in knowledge, is ferried from resort to resort without ever getting beneath the packaged surface of the country. A traveller, by contrast, with knowledge of the language and the lie of the land, can peer beneath the veneer. Who is best placed to gain a job, make a friend, gain a perspective, understand a problem, work out how to solve another?
The most forward-thinking schools educate students to be travellers not tourists. But what does this look like in practice?
First and foremost, travellers are fluent in the local language and so language-learning plays a prominent part in our forward-looking programme. French, German, Italian and Spanish will continue to be important in a post-Brexit world as dealings with European countries will have to be negotiated outside the Anglophone citadels of the EU’s central institutions. Beyond that, Mandarin and Russian are already growing in significance as China and Russia feature ever more strongly in the British economic cosmos. Language exchanges provide perfect trial-runs for adult adventures in overseas study or employment. With this in mind, we were delighted to welcome our Russian exchange partners yesterday for a ten-day visit and look forward to hosting our German partners in early March.
I am filled with confidence that, whatever happens in the coming months and years, here at OHS a new generation of hopeful travellers is preparing to take on the world and be the change they wish to see.
Travellers are also curious and open-minded about everything unfamiliar. That is why, in Global Studies in the Prep, the girls explore a diverse range of cultures (most spectacularly, for Chinese New Year last Friday, for example). In the Senior School, girls engage empathetically with the wider world and find new perspectives on ancient problems. Last Friday’s immersive experience for Year 9 with Empathy Action was a perfect example of both, rethinking the causes of poverty through recreating a Bangladeshi slum in the Main Hall.
Another defining feature of travellers is that they embrace global citizenship and see their identity and life-path through a multitude of lenses. This is perhaps best reflected by the fact that, increasingly, our students are building an international dimension into their plans and ambitions, with 25% of current Year 13s applying to university for courses involving foreign language-learning or study abroad.
The most pessimistic commentators on the impact of Brexit have predicted a rise in nationalism and even xenophobia in the months and years to come, as Britain retreats into a not-so-splendid isolation. Witnessing, day by day, the growth of the young minds in our care, I am filled with confidence that, at OHS at least, quite the opposite is happening and that a new generation of hopeful travellers is preparing to take on the world and be the change they wish to see there.