I went to high school in Amsterdam 35 years ago, to an international school, The International School of Amsterdam. ISA, as it's called, celebrates its fiftieth anniversary a week from now.
We went to school in an era when the Cold War was still at its peak, when the Soviet Union had leaders whom you only saw in recorded TV images twice or thrice a year, waving from afar as they watched the presentation of fearful armaments meant for us. Iranian students occupied the American Embassy in Tehran and held Americans hostage for more than a year. Ronald Reagan took over from Jimmy Carter and embarked on trying to contain the Soviets, the 'enemy'. The Soviet Union positioned SS - 20 missiles in Eastern European countries, aimed at obliterating all of Western Europe at the push of a button. NATO retaliated by placing Pershing missiles. There were anti - war demonstrations across Europe.
We listened to Duran Duran, Madonna, the Human League and Ultravox and pretended not to like them because the full potential of Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix and the Stones hadn't yet been exhausted, or so we thought.
We were from the United States, Israel, Irak, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Eastern European countries, Australia, and Kenya, to name but some of the countries.
For those of us who were politically engaged intense debates in between classes centered around the right and wrong of communism vs capitalism, of the Reagan and Thatcher led rearmament policy vs the perceived appeasement of the Soviets, of the right of Israel to secure borders vs the rights of Palestinians scattered across refugee camps in Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan to their own homeland. The debates, though always intense, were never personal. The Indians and Pakistanis, the Israelis and Kuwaitis, the Japanese and Koreans were able to sit side by side minutes later in the classrooms.
In the years that followed our departure from the ISA and from Amsterdam the school, its teachers and our classmates always held a special place in our hearts and minds. In spite of only being in direct contact with a few friends we stayed in the know of others via a relay system, via hear-say. The extended community felt like a tribe that was always connected in spite of being in limited contact with each other.
The advent of social networking made that direct contact with each other possible for the first time in twenty five years. The initial thrill of Facebook was primarily to find and re - establish contact with friends across the world, to share again in their life stories. The tribe gained a virtual connection that had not previously existed.
Next week hundreds of former students and teachers of the ISA will reconvene in Amsterdam, while the rest of us will join from afar. While we went to school with Yugoslavs and Soviets and Iraqis we will re-unite with Croats, Serbs, Slovenians, Kurds and Kazakhs.
In many ways it seems as if the debates of thirty five years ago have returned unresolved. The Soviet Union may no longer exist, but Russia is one again a foreboding adversary, gifting us hitherto unknown wannabe republics. A war wages between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza. Countries such as Iraq and Syria are disintegrating and re - assembling in ways that are unpredictable and frightening.
This time round, our debates on the right and wrong of the war are waged on Facebook, with the same intensity as before, but still without getting personal.
In thinking about the School's greatest gift to us I realized that it wasn't a particular curriculum or syllabus or qualification. The greatest gift was and is this ability to conduct debate without losing respect for the opposing party and it is for that gift that we owe immense gratitude to our teachers. In this era of increasing misunderstanding that capability is more valuable than ever before. Call it the Amsterdam School if you will.
The reunion will take place. The tribe will come together in body and in mind and then disband once again, but remain forever connected with each other.
8/3/2014 06:16:34 am
Extremely well written.
8/3/2014 12:24:37 pm
Mira Manini Tiwari
8/3/2014 04:22:21 pm
Thanks Ajit and Don for your comments, glad the thoughts resonate with you and others.
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Btw, the banner photo was taken from our holiday home outside of San Gimignano at 6.20 am. What light! It lasted all of five minutes.