The Round Square Conference - Aiglon, Switzerland
By Fayzaan A. Sayed, Senior Reporter for the Light House
The Journey that makes us’, the theme of the Round Square Aiglon Conference this year, in Switzerland was an eye-catcher. The excitement to kickstart the journey was palpating and inexpressible and our team was raring to go. With our hearts throbbing and pulsating, we were ready to embark on a sojourn that would offer us unforgettable adventures and memories that wouldn’t get wiped off easily from our minds. We were seen off by our parents at the Dubai Airport, bidding us a temporary farewell and wishing the best for us. We boarded the KLM flight to Amsterdam after which a connecting flight landed us at the Geneva Airport and lo! then the ceaseless fun and frolic began.
Sunday, 9th October
After a long six hour flight and another one and a half hour of flying, our tired eyes opened up to see the amazing beauty of Switzerland. The Aiglon representatives warmly welcomed us and escorted us to the train station from where we reached the village of Ollon. This is where the Aiglon school was located which was also the site of our conference. The beautiful pictures that we had seen of Switzerland came to life when we gazed out of the train windows in astonishment. The stunning pelicans, tranquil boats sailing on the serene calm water and the vocal graffiti on the walls were indeed a visual treat. The scenery was picturesque and seemed to be right out of a frame. When we reached our destination station, we were to board a bus to the school. The bumpy ride took us through narrow mountainous roads,amazingly leading us to a serene valley nestled between the enchanting Alps. The school campus was spread over a large area with buildings on different hills. After light refreshments, we were ready to take a campus tour. Each school house had a building to itself where students from all over the world were accommodated. Exeter, Belvedere, Alpina, Clairmont, Delaware were just some of the names given to these various buildings. The sports complex and the football grounds were magnificent, with an underground sports facility. We were shown the Village Mayor’s house, the headmaster’s house and many more such beautifully structured villas. Despite the physically taxing journey, I was eager to make the most of this adventurous trip and hence I joined a group of boys and played football and dodge ball. I was assigned the Exeter building for my stay at Aiglon. I was greeted with a 3D map of the complex which I thought was very innovative.
Our housemaster,whose warm smile will probably never be erased from my mind, already knew me by name and he graciously took me along to be introduced to my room-mates. I shared my room with a very interesting Japanese student, Saboori and an enthusiastic German pupil, Tim, with both of whom I later on came to share a very intimate and warm bond of friendship too. An opening ceremony was scheduled in the evening and I was the flag bearer of my prestigious school, The Indian High School. All participating schools were introduced and flag bearers proudly represented their respective schools. Carrying the flag for my school was an honour and I held it with pride, exhibiting the glory our school is synonymous with. The opening ceremony was quite a learning experience where we got to know about various highly reputed schools all over the world. Post the ceremony, we proceeded for dinner and then it was time for us to finally rest and buckle up for the next day. I was assigned the ‘Zug’ Baraza group.
Monday, 10th October
A typical day at Aiglon starts with the meditation which is said to develop our spiritual self. At Aiglon, they believe in the development of the mind, body and spirit. A part of the meditation is where a present student of the school narrates his journey that has made him what he is. We learnt from a Nigerian student, the hardships that he went through in his life to reach his goals. After the meditation, we were to hear Sir Jackie Stewart, a Gran prix champion who had to his credit numerous F1 racing titles. It was amazing to see how a person struggling with dyslexia early in his life, had become such a successful car racing champ! What hit me most during the course of his talk, were the words, ‘focus’ and ‘endure’. The reason for his success was, as per him, learning to endure and not getting excited before a race. He tried to read a book before every race to learn to concentrate. The right balance of focus and endurance led him to become a winner in his field, despite his constraints and shortcomings. Mark Grist, a poet, was our next speaker. Another interesting life story was about to unfold. Mark Grist lived on a desolate island and was not very good with his studies. What interested him though was the English language. His mother was insistent that he work harder with the other subjects lest he end up being just a teacher with English as his passion. Despitebeing thrown out of his house on the choice of his career, Mark didn’t give up and after having to convince his mother a lot, could finally do his Masters in English and take up a school job. His encounter with a student, Jordan, changed his life forever. Being one of the most unruly boys in school, Jordan was being excluded by the principal but for the intervention of Mark,he was give a three month period to change himself and Mark wanted to see this transition soon. On being asked to change, Jordan laid an unusual bet with Mark that he would change only if Mark would participate in the Rappers battle at a local rap club. Though Mark was shocked out of his wits, he took up the challenge just to reform Jordan and get him to improve his ways. As Lady luck would have it, Mark went on to become one of the finalists at the rappers battle and now he goes around the world exhibiting his new found talent! Mark says, “Don’t judge people by their appearance and ways, everyone has the potential to have an effect upon us and can contribute something to our lives.”At the Baraza group discussions, we observed that we had learnt that the Round Square ideals, ‘tenacity’, ‘Self awareness’, ‘courage’ and the ‘ability to solve problems’ were the key ingredients to Mark Grist’s success recipe. After these enriching experiences, we went on a scavenger hunt. Sheets of papers giving different clues were given to groups to uncover a treasure. After this exhilarating and adventurous activity, it was time for dinner and then also time to call off the day. Another fun filled day came to an end but not without augmenting our knowledge about the varied facets of life.
Tuesday, 11th October
The day started with a refreshing meditation session which was followed by a talk by Meagan Fallona from the Barefoot College in Rajasthan. It was a learning place for elderly women where they were also taught to use their skills and start small enterprises of their own. The college was also instrumental in the introduction of solar panels to provide electricity to the village. It was so famous that Apple approached them with an offer to make an interface and software for their needs. The college was even visited by Mr. Narendra Modi, the present Prime Minister of India. Aiglon was celebrating its 50th year of association with the Round Square which is why we were linked live to another ongoing conference in Germany. We were told that the delegates there were braving torrential rains whereas we in Aiglon, were thoroughly enjoying the snow. We concluded in the Baraza group that ‘Spirit of service’, ‘compassion’ and ‘team work skills’ were the Round Square ideals that were exhibited in the life of Meagan Fallona. It was now time to embark upon another interesting aspect of the Round Square, the Ideals Activity. It was the adventurer in me that chose the Alpine nature trek as my ideals activity. We were taken to the foothills of the majestic Alps where our four hour trek would begin. The guide informed us that during winter, the foothills were covered with snow and no cars were allowed during that extreme winter time. People were encouraged to enjoy the snow laden paths on foot. As we climbed up the snow covered hill, it got steeper and steeper. The coniferous trees standing tall with their beautifully needle shaped leaves, seemed to invite us. My thoughts were immediately transported to our geography periods where we were taught about the unique shape of these leaves, specifically adapted to allow the snow to slide down easily and not accumulate on them. We were given short breaks to allow other groups to catch up with us. We rested at a beautiful café where I was fortunate enough to get a golden opportunity to interact with one of our key note speakers, Allesandro Borghese, who was also an ex-student of Aiglon. He informed me that during peak winter, they would see reindeers, yaks and cows around these hills. He accompanied me in the cable car which took about 15 minutes to reach the other side. Quite an amazing experience it was! We were then treated to pretzels and hot chocolate. From there we boarded a train which took us back to the campus. What a trek, a first for me!!Although excessively tedious and tiring, nevertheless a great learning experience!! Observing people and nature was something I had always been fond of but nothing of this sort ever! The tiring journey had made me quite hungry and what a pleasant surprise the dinner was, as if my prayers were answered!It was a spread of Arabic cuisine, with falafels and kebabs, making me feel completely at home in Dubai! Well deserved, I thought to myself. Having satiated my appetite, I moved on with my group to the ice hockey rink. We were invited to watch an ice hockey match between the local teams. The way they played hockey on ice seemed as if the movements were choreographed, so graceful and elegant indeed. What an apt end to a fruitfully tiring day!
Wednesday, 12th October
Waking up, having breakfast and meditation had become a regular routine then. We were waiting with bated breath to hear the keynote speaker for the day, Mr. Ben Saunders, a world renowned polar explorer who had charted unexplored lands and created a name as well as carved a niche for himself. He spoke of his expeditions and how after ultimately reaching his destination, he felt totally hopeless, the emptiness that engulfed him then and how he had to get back and cope with the world. He recollected an incident where they ran out of food supplies and how they had to ask their sponsors for external help which made him feel miserably defeated. A hilarious fact that he shared with us was the change of his underwear — which would be done every 3 months!! His rigorous training, uni-focused concentration and the fire to accomplish something could be sensed in his speech. That kind of activity was really something and deserved a thundering applause, I believe! When we put our heads together at the Baraza, the ideals that most described Ben Saunder’s life were ‘tenacity’, ‘courage’, ‘spirit of adventure’, ‘inquisitiveness’ and ‘teamwork skills’. It was now time to hit the forests as part of the adventure day activity of Round Square. There were four levels of difficulty and we were part of the most difficult level, an almost 5 hours of walk through mountainous pathways, forests and a ski camp. During the course of the adventure, I even slipped a few times in the snow, feeling completely like an amateur explorer going through hardships. I had just heard Ben Saunders earlier in the day and that time was an acid test of those ideals for me! Steep hills and the almost dark forest were at some times inviting and at others a bit scary. Sun rays couldn’t penetrate enough keeping the ground moist and slippery. We reached a ski camp where we rested and had some snacks. The whole group was photographed by a drone camera, technology at its best here!! We again charted our way through a steep hill and then the cable car ride took us to the other side. We were just ten minutes away from the campus. As all good things do come to an end, this adventure worth remembering all our life had also finally come to an end! Learning never stops and every day at the Round Squarebore enough testimony to this universal fact — it was indeed an enriching experience that would make us more mature and enable us to see the world in a different light and perspective. Then it was dinner and a well deserved sleep.
Thursday, 13th October
I woke up to a beautiful morning, looking forward to a fun-filled and eventful day. Breakfast and meditation led us to Peter Charaf, who was the scheduled keynote speaker for that day. He was associated with a charity organization, ‘Race for water’ that was active in water preservation and dealing with pollution in the ocean ecosystems. He mentioned how marine life was endangered due to the callous attitude and careless acts of the people of the world. Plastic pollution in the seas was a major problem and this organization aimed to work towards getting rid of this menace by embarking on an expedition to collect scientific data to understand the environmental impacts of such actions. Nick Howes was up next. He was an amateur astronomer. He gave us insights into observing asteroids and stars in the night. He had got a chance to name some recurring asteroids since he had observed them and compiled data and pictures on them. He is a regular writer of articles on the subject on the NASA website and features on many other leading media channels. Colonel Alfred (Al) Worden, an American astronaut and engineer was our next speaker. He is one of the only twenty four people who have been to the moon. He has also been listed as the ‘most isolated human being’ for his time spent alone on one of his space expeditions. What courage and grit it must have taken to stay alone, that too in space for such a long time! Salute to Col. Al Warden!!We were back to discussing the ideals for the day’s speakers in the baraza. Peter Charaf’s story clearly showed us a ‘Spirit of Environment’, ‘Spirit of service’, ‘Commitment to sustainability’ and ‘Ability to solve problems’ as the main ideals. Through Nick Howes, the ideals learnt were ‘Inquisitiveness’ and ‘Self Awareness’. Colonel Alfred’s life journey aptly taught us the ideals of ‘Courage’, ‘Tenacity’, ‘Spirit of Adventure’ and ‘Inquisitiveness’.Rehearsals and practice for the closing ceremony followed and then it was time to wrap up. The closing ceremony saw all the schools presenting different cultural programs associated with their respective countries. We too proudly presented a skit on the UAE’s rich culture and traditions of hospitability and a melodious Arabic song too. My team mates, including Sreeja, Shivikha and Mithilesh and I performed exceptionally and we were greeted with a thunderous applause from the audience. During the closing ceremony, Sreeja, brimming with pride and confidence, bore our school flag.
It was time to bid adieu to the campus and its folks. Although we were feeling sad and our hearts were heavy upon leaving Aiglon, we had a bagful of memories to carry with us. These moments would stay with us forever and the words and wisdom of the speakers would enrich us whenever we recalled them. All through this, Sandeep Sir was a pillar of strength to us, guiding us, caring for us and being there for us all the time. We boarded the morning flight to Amsterdam and then en route to Dubai. We were back late in the night, still in a trance, thinking about the Alps and Aiglon. ‘Yes, I have to wake up for my meditation tomorrow morning’ was on my mind…
About the Reporter:
Fayzaan Sayed is a Senior Reporter for the Light House. An avid writer, he covers a great deal of external events for the Light House. Read more about him here!