News from SCIS:

From Colombia to Tanzania, a Round Square spirited journey By: Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

My name is Laura Valentina Cortes Sierra, which seems like a lot of names, however Colombians tend to have two last names and quite often two first names too. I was born in Bogota, the capital city of Colombia 23 years ago. Bogota is a vibrant city of 10 million people hidden  in the Andes Mountain Range, 2,600 metres above sea level and with a steady year-long temperature that goes from 9 to 22 Celsius every day.

So, in case you immediately thought of Colombia as a very warm jungle, I am glad to tell you my country has very warm jungles, but also very cold cities. As well, we have deserts by the beach, a few snowy mountains and the two magnificent oceans – the warm Atlantic, with up to seven tones of blue and green on the coasts of San Andres Island, and the wild Pacific, home to hundreds of humpback whales that annually choose its warm waters to give birth.

As my parents were P. E teachers, I was able to get a high-quality education at Saint George’s School in Bogota. This place was more than a school, it was my home. I used to bump into my parents and my brother and hug them in the corridor. I would stay until 8 pm watching or playing matches of Volleyball and Basketball. Like St Constantine’s, it receives students from when they are four years old until they graduate at 18. Even though the school didn’t have boarding, I felt like a boarder from the amount of time and the meaningful connections I made in my 14 years there.

The warm feeling of home made me want to work as a teacher assistant after I graduated, so I deferred my Journalism scholarship placement and, thanks to a friend from a Round Square school, I applied to work as a Gap student at Regents International School Pattaya, in Thailand. There, I assisted with English, Spanish, French and Sports classes, while also helping at the boarding house and exploring amazing Thailand.

After this first international experience, everything in my life changed and I understood my goal was to combine the ideals of Internationalism, Democracy, Environmentalism, Adventure, Leadership and Service. I wanted to contribute both to Colombia, and the world, through travelling, telling stories and living a sustainable and empathetic life; trying to create bridges amongst people and breaking stereotypes about my country and those I visit.

Travelling as a Colombian, I bumped into a lot of stereotypes who only generalised and perpetuated discourses of hate and/or fear. How easy it is to dehumanise another when you don’t see but one side of their complex reality. In the words of the Nigerian feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie “The consequence of the single story is this, it robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar”.

After my gap year, I started a Journalism degree at Universidad del Rosario in Bogota. My curiosity and aim of seeing the world led me to an exchange semester at Université Internationale de Rabat, Morocco. My best friend and I were the first Colombians in history to do an exchange semester in this country. I loved my first experience in Africa and I promised myself to come back.

After a year back in Colombia I got a full European Commission Scholarship for another exchange semester, this one at University of Leicester, United Kingdom. The Coronavirus pandemic hit during my time there and I finished my exchange online. Colombia was one of the first countries to close its borders both for citizens and tourists. Currently, Colombia has around 8,000 new Coronavirus cases and 300 deaths a day. I miss my family and travelling around my country, but with full confinement in the big cities since March, I can only feel grateful for being in Tanzania.

Through the Round Square web page, I found St Constantine’s and here I found the opportunity to do a Round Square internship, also helping out for a couple of hours a day in the Marketing Department, while I live on the beautiful main campus.

I have completed my first week living on campus and I already feel so welcome in the school community.

Teachers, Dadas, Security Guards, thank you all for teaching me Swahili and asking me about Colombia. I encourage parents around the world, especially in countries hard hit by Coronavirus, to look at Saint Constantine’s International School as an amazing place for your children to study in a safe and fun environment. Here a staff of passionate and knowledgeable teachers will guide them to their greatest potential.

My message to students is that you should take advantage of all the Round Square opportunities you get to do, whether online or physically in another country. Travelling and meeting people from different backgrounds results in building better human beings who appreciate diversity, are versatile and empathetic when facing new challenges and have the curiosity and responsibility of leaders.

One of the first things Miss Wint told me was that I embodied somehow the Round Square spirit. I felt so surprised, but honoured. I hope I succeed at leaving the best of me, Colombia-  and every international experience that has shaped me – while I learn as much as possible from this diverse environment in fascinatingTanzania. I still haven’t processed the fact I am here. I might be able to accomplish my dreams of seeing free elephants and Zebras and of snorkeling in Zanzibar or Mafia Islands. Asante sana Tanzania. Asante sana Saint Constantine’s International School.