The time of our lives
New teachers, new facilities, new approaches. Like all those who want to remain at the top, ZIS is constantly evolving - but our ethos has held fast over six decades. We asked what the ZIS Experience has meant to you.
Class of 1986 (1982-86)
Marcus joined the Middle School (then at AISZ, the American International School of Zurich), following in the footsteps of his older siblings, who had already made the jump from the Swiss public school system.
He was getting on well in Swiss school but, roped in to play drums for an AISZ musical that his brother and sister were starring in, Marcus was so struck by the “warmth and embrace” of the school that he asked to be transferred there too.
Marcus remembers hurrying along on his almost two-hour commute to school, a journey that involved bicycle, train, tram and bus: “I would walk as fast as possible so that I could be one of the very first people at school. I wanted to be first because I loved being there, witnessing everyone arrive.”
Life at the school was “full of possibilities”, Marcus recalls. “I just had this sense that the teachers were always there, with arms wide open to embrace what you would bring. They were friends, mentors and heroes.” Particular moments of learning have stayed with him: an English lesson spent under a large oak table reading The Lord of the Rings, for example. “There was this real individuality to the teachers,” says Marcus.
After AISZ, a liberal arts Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s in theatre, Marcus began a successful career as a performer with the likes of the Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil.
“I found this freedom in theatre, an ability to express myself and grow in that way; this collaborative thing that I had flourished under at AISZ” he explains. “When I think about who I became, it’s completely thanks to those years.”
"I just had this sense that the teachers were always there, with arms wide open to embrace what you would bring. They were friends, mentors and heroes"
Class of 2015 (2011-2015)
Spending the night camped outside the Upper School sports hall wasn’t what Claire envisioned when she signed up for the Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) Bronze Award. But that’s exactly what happened after she and her friends got hopelessly lost during a Grade 9 practice expedition ahead of a much more ambitious trip to the Alps.
“There’s a hillside just outside the school – it was so close!” recalls Claire, chuckling at the memory. “We ended up having to be picked up. All we could think was, ‘How are we ever going to finish our final expedition if we’re getting lost just an hour away from school?’” It worked out fine in the end – more than fine in fact, with Claire going on to complete Silver and Gold awards during her time at ZIS.
It’s not just the memories of those years that have stayed with Claire. The friendships she made at ZIS have proved just as enduring – she was at a wedding with many of her fellow hikers this summer, and has kept in touch with a lot of the other people she graduated with.
And after joining the school midway through Grade 8 in 2011, her family having relocated to Zurich from the Netherlands, she believes it’s thanks to those fellow students that she settled in at ZIS so quickly. “I had the chance in Middle School to improve my English and focus on making good friends,” she says, “so I was able to start Upper School with a group of friends and with more confidence in my English abilities.”
She also fondly remembers the support of her teachers, one – Paul Doolan – in particular. “He’s one of those teachers that can just talk for an hour and continue to engage everybody in the classroom, a teacher that has so much passion for his subject that he will happily talk about the subject at length and make it funny and then act things out. Super knowledgeable, quirky, engaging, funny – it was just a blast going to his classes.”
"How are we ever going to finish our final expedition if we're getting lost just an hour away from school?"
Class of 1987 (1983-87)
For Richard, it was the international nature of AISZ that made the biggest impact on his life. “The school was a microcosm of different cultures from all around the world,” he says.
Coming into that environment from a Swiss school, this self-described “multicultural kid who grew up parts of his youth in Asia and then Switzerland” felt immediately at home. Not only that; the school “opened up my global horizons, and gave me the opportunity to make connections with teachers and students, some of whom I’m still in touch with today, even though we’re scattered all around the world,” he says.
This period proved to be excellent preparation for his career in Capital Markets, starting in Zurich and London and continuing into more than 20 years of service with UBS. “Learning about different cultures, about spending time together on a daily basis, ultimately brought me to my employment because it taught me how to work with different people from different parts of the world,” he says. Richard has particularly fond memories of his classes with maths teacher Dale Braunschweig, who made him feel comfortable in his early days at AISZ by switching between Swiss German and English. “It was a little intimidating going from a larger classroom to the much smaller one we had at AISZ. Dale made the experience very welcoming.”
It wasn’t just the student-teacher relationships that he appreciated; there were plenty of other quirky elements to life at AISZ during that period. The weekly hot dog day tradition was a case in point. “We didn’t have the facilities to warm them, so the buns had to be warmed in the drying cycle of the dishwasher,” he remembers. Usually, this method worked just fine but it certainly wasn’t foolproof: “There were times when they would get the cycle wrong and then the buns would come out a little bit soggy. These were little growing pains that we still laugh about today.”
"ZIS opened up my global horizons, and gave me the opportunity to make connections with teachers and students,
some of whom I'm still in touch with today, even though we're scattered all around the world"
Parent of Charli, Class of 2016 (2007-13) and Brett, Class of 2018 (2007-13)
ZIS has long proved a welcoming environment, not just for its students but also for their families too. For Nikki, this began even before she and her family arrived in Zurich from the US, when the school organised a ZIS pen pal for her daughter, Charli.
“The day I was moving in, Anette Allde came and picked up my daughter and took her for a playdate with her daughter,” Nikki says. “That was so much nicer because I was trying to handle the whole move by myself with two children. A lot of times the working spouse travels a great deal and my husband was no exception: he travelled about 75 per cent of the time. So it was nice to have a community of other moms and dads that were stay at home that could help out when I needed it.”
Nikki threw herself into the life of the school, facilitating other families’ arrivals into Zurich as Parents’ Association Vice President of Welcome and Community and becoming “drama mama” when Charli and son Brett became heavily involved in co-curricular theatre activities.
Such was the closeness of the relationship that in 2012, when Nikki was diagnosed with a brain tumour and had to undergo life-saving surgery, it was to the school community that she turned to for support. “None of our family came over for it because it would have been more trouble for my husband to try to negotiate taking care of family members on top of the kids,” she says. Instead, another ZIS family, the Gildersleeves, had Charli and Brett to stay while Nikki was in hospital, and another local parent, Bonnie Best, took on the task of relaying news to family back in the States. The school, meanwhile, made sure that Charli and Brett and all the other students that were close to Nikki were given the space to navigate these unbelievably challenging circumstances.
“With the expat life, your friends become your family,” says Nikki. “It’s just remarkable that we felt it would be harder to have family than not. It says a lot for the community and the administration itself.”