On education in Europe and the USA

Clever Magazine
Switzerland Schools Student life Editor-in-Chief's column Kristina Lebedeva Popular

People Above All: a Unique Community of College Alpin Beau Soleil

Switzerland, renowned for its commitment to precision and quality, extends these principles to its educational institutions, particularly its prestigious boarding schools. Beyond the postcard-perfect scenery, these schools have carved a niche for themselves on the global stage, attracting students from every corner of the world. In this article, we embark on a journey to unravel the illustrious reputation of Swiss boarding schools - a reputation that echoes through the corridors of academic excellence and cultural richness.

Join us as we delve into the distinctive features that contribute to the esteemed reputation of Swiss boarding schools. From a curriculum that balances academic rigour and holistic development to a multicultural environment that fosters a global perspective, each aspect adds a layer to the tapestry of Swiss education.

We'll explore the unique Swiss approach to education, the emphasis on languages, and the experiential learning opportunities that set these institutions apart. Additionally, we'll hear from students and educators, gaining insights into the transformative impact of Swiss boarding schools on personal and academic growth.

Prepare to be immersed in a narrative that goes beyond statistics and rankings - a narrative that captures the essence of Swiss boarding schools and the unparalleled reputation they hold in the realm of international education. Welcome to an exploration of excellence, where education meets alpine splendour, and dreams find a home away from home - in the heart of Switzerland.
It was yet another beautiful day in Switzerland. I was on my way to visit College Alpin Beau Soleil, one of the oldest and most renowned international boarding schools in the country, which is also a part of the prestigious Nord Anglia Education group - a global family of premium international day and boarding schools. Beau Soleil is renowned for its commitment to providing a nurturing and challenging environment where students can excel academically, develop character, and cultivate a global perspective - the kind of environment that is very appealing to me.
As I was driving up towards Villars-sur-Ollon, I couldn't help but feel a sense of anticipation and excitement. The stunning Swiss landscapes, adorned with vibrant colours and the warmth of the sun, created the perfect backdrop for my visit. The majestic Swiss Alps rose in the distance, their snow-capped peaks glistening under the clear blue sky. As I stepped out of the car, I took a breath of fresh mountain air to appreciate the serene atmosphere.

I was warmly greeted by Nicu - Admissions & Relationship Manager of the school. He kindly highlighted the main points of my busy visit. As previously agreed, I was about to interview three members of the senior team, including the School Principal, Mr. White, the Director of Studies, Mr. Ferguson, Mr. O’Hara, Director of Co-Curricular Activities, as well as three senior school students: Vanessa, Isabella, and Ivan. So a lot to be done!
My first meeting was going to be with Mr. O’Hara, who was trained and grew up in the British system himself. His first teaching job was in London, but he spent the last eight years in the Swiss boarding schools environment. One of the first things I bring to the table while consulting my clients on how to choose the right country for their educational journey is that education systems are very different, and what’s important is to understand why international education is different from anything else and how it can benefit your particular case. So I was very interested to hear his comment on comparing the Swiss (or should I say, international) and British education systems.
"The UK is very statistical, very much about results and academics. The stages you have to pass through. And potentially less focused on the student and individual. International education is about the student and about finding the right education for them at the right time of their educational path. And that’s what I like about it. It’s so open to so many nationalities. That in itself is a massive opportunity to learn about different cultures."
"One of the key aspects that sets Beau Soleil apart is its international student body. With students representing over 50 nationalities, the school provides a truly multicultural experience. This diverse community fosters an atmosphere of cultural exchange and understanding, where students learn to appreciate different perspectives and develop a global mindset."
"The international system at Swiss boarding schools looks more at the holistic nature of the student, rather than getting the best results to get them to the next level. The next level doesn’t necessarily have to be a university. We give options and we encourage independence and create well rounded humans when they leave school. We encourage various experiences that sometimes also consist of failures, which is a part of life. They need to have setbacks. We want to train our students to understand that failure is okay, and it is how you respond to it: do you stay open?"
"So a very beneficial thing we do here at Beau Soleil is to put our students in scenarios that will allow them to address failures. We offer so many activities and we encourage our students to try new things - dance, drama, music, film, art, design and technology, longer term learning programs: coffee program, ski instructor program, driver licence and many more. “Are they related to academics? Not really. But are they gonna help our students potentially in life? Absolutely."
I wanted to dive deeper into exploring the approach that seemed to be Beau Soleil’s core narrative, and so as Mr. Ferguson arrived my first question to him was to describe what the school's holistic approach meant to him. We paused for a moment to have a coffee and admire the breathtaking views of the mountains and then he shared the following:
"I’ve been working for 22 years now in education and I worked at some private schools in the UK and around the world, and Beau Soleil is the first school that does everything that is written on its website for every student. We’re small enough to know everyone as an individual and treat everyone as an individual, but we’re also big enough to be a real school."
School here is not only about 9 to 5, it's about every opportunity. The community spirit here is so strong because we live together, we laugh together, we cry together, we win together, we fail together.
As a professional educational adviser with several clients interested in the school, I was also interested to hear what Mr. Ferguson was looking for in potential candidates in his role as Beau Soleil’s admissions committee member.
“Attitude. And it needs to work on both sides. We need to be right for the student and the student needs to be right for us. We’re looking for somebody who is going to come and work hard, make the most of the opportunities that we put in front of them, and embrace everything that we offer - both in and outside of the classroom. That’s the student that will do best here. The student who is willing to go outside of the comfort zone."
After finishing the conversation, with the sun shining brightly overhead, we embarked on a tour of the campus. We passed by the classrooms, where the sounds of engaged students and enthusiastic teachers resonated through the halls. We then stepped into a cozy room with a stunning view of the Alps, of course, where Ivan, Isabella, and Vanessa were already waiting for me.

As we started, they expressed their appreciation for the school's supportive environment, rigorous academics, and opportunities for personal development. Ivan highlighted the small class sizes, especially in his IB choices, and the freedom the students have compared to other boarding schools in Switzerland. Vanessa shared her experiences of trying various activities, such as skydiving, obtaining a pilot's license, and participating in global trips during half terms. Isabella described her unique trip to Kilimanjaro and an art-focused journey to Spain, highlighting the school's emphasis on diverse experiences.
When discussing challenges, Vanessa mentioned the initial difficulty of adapting to a new environment, having never changed schools or been apart from her family before. Isabella, who had switched schools multiple times, found adapting to being away from her family quite challenging. She also noted the transient nature of friendships due to the initial choice of many students to stay for only one year.

Regarding university choices, Isabella expressed her passion for art and considered studying architecture or interior design, while Vanessa aimed for business and marketing, possibly in the fashion industry in London or the US.

On the topic of Switzerland and its way of life, Isabella appreciated the international diversity present in the country but expressed a desire not to stay there in the future. Ivan praised the school's openness in allowing him to choose challenging IB subjects, something he couldn't do in his previous school. Isabella highlighted the abundance of trips, a feature not common in all schools. Overall, the students conveyed a positive experience at Beau Soleil, emphasising the school's unique offerings and the opportunities for personal and academic growth.
My last interview of the day was with Mr. Stuart White. In 2019, College Alpin Beau Soleil welcomed him as a new principal, marking a new era for the renowned institution. As we sat down with Mr. White, his passion for boarding schools and commitment to the values of respect, responsibility, ambition, and determination became palpable:
"I am a passionate advocate for boarding schools and the unique opportunities that they bring for the development of young people," Mr. White enthusiastically shared. He pointed out a key distinction between Swiss boarding schools and their UK or US counterparts, stating, "If you take a UK or US boarding school, it will be American or British with a little part of the international community. Swiss boarding schools are not Swiss but truly international, boasting a vibrant mix of 52+ nationalities."
When asked about his criteria for choosing candidates, Mr. White's response was refreshingly straightforward. "I look directly at their face and I ask them, 'Are you a good person?' It’s nice to see them reflect. Enthusiasm is key," he emphasised.

Reflecting on his proudest achievement as the school principal, Mr. White unequivocally credited the success to the cohesive team at Beau Soleil. "The true leader is the one to build a team," he asserted, underlining the importance of collaboration in fostering an environment conducive to learning and personal development.

When inquired about his favourite part of the day, Mr. White's eyes sparkled with genuine delight. "I like standing and watching how everything goes. Someone will always make me a coffee, and I just observe. But to tell you the truth, I like every part of the day. I wouldn't be able to just do the same thing. I meet families, I interview students, everything is diverse," he shared, painting a vivid picture of the dynamic and engaging nature of his role.

Central to Beau Soleil's educational philosophy is the belief that education is about personal development and overcoming challenges. "Education is about how you develop as a person; it’s about finding challenging situations and overcoming them," Mr. White emphasised, highlighting the school's commitment to shaping resilient and well-rounded individuals. "We're incredibly proud of our community here in the beautiful Swiss Alps – with colleagues and students from all around the world. All of our team shares the values of the school and works together, making Beau Soleil the extraordinary institution it has been since 1910."
As we delved deeper into the conversation, it became evident that College Alpin Beau Soleil, under the leadership of Mr. Stuart White, is not merely a school. It Is a thriving global community dedicated to empowering students from diverse backgrounds to excel and thrive.

I leave the school with a sense of respect and trust. At the heart of Beau Soleil is its unique community, which is built on the principles of diversity, inclusivity, and mutual respect. From academics to real-life experience, Beau Soleil stands out in delivering a truly holistic approach to education, creating a supportive and stimulating environment for students to explore their passions and talents. Through its unique educational approach and shared values of academic excellence, personal growth, and global citizenship, the school prepares wholesome humans who will thrive in our complex and interconnected modern world.