Some days, Hannah opens her eyes still expecting to be greeted by the stunning alpine views of Switzerland.
“Three months passed by so quickly,” she shared. “I felt like this is my short-term break, and that afterwards I would go back to Switzerland and back to my normal life routine.”
Last academic year, 16 DCB students signed up for the third term of Ignite: Switzerland, a unique opportunity exclusive to Year 9 Dulwich students to experience a unique overseas residential indoor and outdoor learning experience at our sister school in Switzerland, Hochalpines Institut Ftan (HIF). The programme helps foster self-confidence, independence, and a sense of community in one of the world’s most beautiful destinations. The rigorous academic programme also includes core and elective options, where all subjects are aligned to prepare our students for the Year 9 or iGCSE curriculum – but with a Swiss twist.
Described by some of our students as the best three months of their lives, Ignite: Switzerland is more than just a “fun” academic venture; it’s a unique blend of education, adventure and personal growth in the midst of one of the world’s most stunning landscapes. It enables our students to forge a deeper connection with nature and apply their unique skills to further our collective responsibility of preserving Earth, our collective home.
In this piece, three participants of the Ignite programme, Kalli, Hannah, and Sarah, shared with us their thoughts on what made them join, how it had exceeded their expectations, the unforgettable moments they experienced, and their advice for anyone considering this life-changing opportunity.
Photo credits: Hannah, Kalli and Sarah
A Glimpse at Life during Ignite: Switzerland
Despite not being a risk-taker, Kalli knew she didn’t want to miss out on this “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to spend a whole term in Europe and Switzerland with some of her friends.
Seated next to her on the couch was Hannah, who also smiled in agreement. “I’m not a risk-taker either,” she said, adding it was actually her mum’s idea for her to go. “She wanted me to try new things, meet new people, go to a new environment, and experience dorming. Our rooms were perfect but honestly, that didn’t matter that much since we didn’t really spend much time there; we were either out doing activities the whole day or socialising in the common rooms.”
Kalli mused how the rooms came with their own connecting bathrooms, but it was the morning hello’s of stunning great oaks outside their windows that gave it the surreal feel. “It felt like waking up to a beautiful dream.”
Hannah shared her initial concerns about homesickness, to which Sarah, sitting next to her, playfully responded, “I don’t think anyone really missed their family.” This drew laughs. “We were just so busy and had so much fun. We had each other and that was enough.”
Kalli explained how living together in close proximity for three months was very different from just meeting people at school. “You get to know them better as a person, and I think I'm so much closer to the 45 people I met there than a lot of people in our year group. It’s because you went through the same things and I could totally just message them if I had any problems, knowing they have my back.”
Academic and Personal Growth Within and Beyond the Classroom
There was no doubt that Ignite was fun, but our interviewees shared that it was also more than just that. “Some people think we didn’t learn anything, but (if anything it’s the opposite),” argued Kalli. “We kept up with our schoolwork and had a lot of opportunities to do sports and other activities and have fun.
Our experiences allowed us to develop more as a person while keeping up with all our work, including our core subjects. So coming back to DCB and doing all the academic things, I don’t worry as much. We can cope with our schoolwork now because everything we did there was all up-to-date.”
Kalli pointed out that the elective courses allowed her to explore her passions, such as filmmaking and understanding the natural world. “We did a lot of hikes, visited some local farms and a cheese factory, and learned more about the animals and their natural environments. We also learned how regulations and the laws work. For example, we met a hunter who told us how many animals you're allowed to kill. He also shared some common debates like over wolves, and whether they should be punished for eating farmers’ sheep. So overall it gave us a better understanding of how everything works in nature.
And as for filmmaking, I’ve always enjoyed drama and filmmaking so it was a really great chance for me to pursue my passion.”
Hannah shared how, despite the rigorous academic schedule, students could keep up with their studies thanks to their self-study time. She also added that, with her parents not around she had more control over her studies. “Being away from my parents, I liked the freedom of taking control of my own lifestyle and my own learning. I learned that I could lead my own way of learning and I really learned how to learn.”
She also added how she was surprised at how quickly she adapted to her new environment and developed a deep appreciation for nature. She recalled the time when she hiked for six hours, not realising she would enjoy it.
And thanks to her Passion Project, she now has a better grasp of what she wants to do in the future. “We’re all required to do a Passion Project, where we explored what we were passionate about and what we liked to do. Now I know what I’m passionate about and how to work towards it. I have a clearer vision of what I want to do in the future.”
Sarah agreed with their points but also brought up how friendship was the unique connection they all had during the trip. “It was strange to be talking to people like in Korea and places from around the world, and we made really strong bonds. We’re still constantly talking online and it feels really good.” For Sarah, the programme not only changed her but also the way she views the world.
The students unanimously agreed that pinpointing a single highlight from their time in Switzerland was challenging due to the abundance of memorable moments. However, they shared a few remarkable experiences.
Sarah recalled the overnight hike as a standout moment. There she and some of her classmates gazed at the stars from high up in the Swiss Alps and were fortunate enough to witness – not just one, but four! –shooting stars. The surreal and rare experience left a profound impact on them.
The mention of this event got both Hannah and Kalli excited. When asked what her highlight of the trip was, Hannah shared that what she wanted to share wasn’t exactly a highlight, but what she felt was her most memorable: the last day. “The Shanghai people and Kalli were leaving at around 3am. Everyone woke up at like 2am and started to cry as they watched them leave. There were people we weren’t close to, but we were all just hugging.”
Kalli’s gaze softened at the memory of this, sharing how the idea of not seeing this group again really saddened them all. “I don’t really tend to cry, but seeing everyone leave knowing that nothing is ever going to be like this again just felt so sad.
And you know how sometimes, in school, boys and girls play separately? At Ignite, we were all bonded and connected and it wasn’t weird to talk to someone of the opposite gender. Each and every one in that group was important to me.”
Kalli’s highlight was the rafting activity. “We had a really fun day out on the rapids. Later on, we bonded a lot and had fun, like jumping into the freezing cold water and then swimming in it.” Another memory came up: “We also had that trip to Munich, then Salzburg, then Lake Como in Italy. We moved around a lot. Like one Saturday we were in Austria for water activities.”
Hannah felt nostalgic at the memory of their six-hour hike from Austria to Switzerland, remembering the sight of the Austrian flag at where Switzerland ended and where Austria began. “I still remember the Austrian flag at the top of the mountain, (with a sign) that said that we were about to go over the border of Austria. I couldn’t believe that I was walking over that border.”
Another memory came over Kalli. “Speaking of hiking in the mountains. Remember that glacier walk? We did a glacier walk on the Alpine Mountain.”
Later on, she shared about the time they made a murder mystery game, complete with character roles and plots. “The theme was vintage, and we even had people dress up! It was great to see everyone in dresses and suits. It took place after one dinner on our second to the last week. We received a budget from the teachers of 100 francs to get all the necessary snacks and decorations from the store in a nearby town. It was a very successful evening and it felt great to see our carefully planned game carried out.”
“Picking one highlight is hard," she added. "It was just all so special.”
Advice for Future Participants
To those considering the Ignite programme, these participants had one resounding message: Go for it!
For our three participants, Ignite: Switzerland offered an unparalleled opportunity for students to broaden their horizons, embrace their passions, and forge lifelong friendships. The experiences of Kalli, Hannah, and Sarah demonstrate that sometimes, taking a risk and stepping out of your comfort zone can lead to the most rewarding and life-changing adventures. Sarah even added how she’s already asked her brother, who is in Year 9, to sign up.
As our students shared, it's not just about having fun; it's a transformative experience that has enriched their lives and helped them be more prepared for what comes next.
The Ignite: Switzerland programme aims to broaden our students' horizons and provide opportunities to gain new perspectives on education and nature while developing their confidence and passion, and encouraging personal development through reflection. When our students explore the world, learn about themselves and their surroundings, and develop lifelong friendships - this is what it means to "Live Worldwise."