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3rd prize - Student Journalism Awards - What being at an international school means to me? - Adam Pickard

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International schools seem to have a reputation for being unusual, perhaps even a bit eccentric. But having attended two, one in Berlin and one in Brussels, they’re really not that different to non-international schools. There is no universally defined international school experience; both my schools were considerably different from one another – only one of them even carried the moniker ‘international school’ in its name. To me, they’re just schools. This piece might as well be titled ‘What being at a school means to me’.

Okay, I suppose the key difference is indicated by the word ‘international’. My primary school in southwest London was predominantly British; certainly there were plenty of children of non-British heritage, often from India or the Middle East, such as you get in a culturally diverse city such as London – but this was besides the point. Most of them had been born and raised in the UK, and other than an occasional thematic presentation to the class about Diwali or Muslim customs, their connection to a wider international community was more or less irrelevant. Occasionally there would be more anomalous ethnicities; one boy was German-Italian, while a new girl was claimed by all the teachers prior to her arrival as Polish, until she arrived and we discovered she was actually Hungarian. These were oddities, and were included among the interesting facts we knew about each of our peers – they’ve certainly stuck with me.

Moving to an international school in Berlin changed this dynamic substantially. Here, the predominant nationalities were German and American, but even they barely made up half of the student body. One of the first students I met was born in England to a Spanish father and a Polish mother. Looking through old class pictures I can remember Bulgarians, Israelis, Koreans, Danes, Japanese-Brazilians… the list would obliterate this article’s word count. Even the Americans were often well-travelled, with diplomatic parents previously posted to remote locations. It certainly seemed different to southwest London.

The school took pains to give us an international education, and we got assemblies on cultural foods and festivals, themed weeks on certain countries, curricula with a slightly more multicultural focus. Teachers encouraged students from the more diverse backgrounds to talk about their cultures, and they often complied. The aim was, obviously, to create a sense of international togetherness - but in some ways, it almost felt slightly more divided. Nationalities flocked together much more than they did at primary school - all the Russian kids were always friends, for example. People could shut others off from the conversation by switching into Spanish or Korean at a moment’s notice – the Germans were particularly notorious for doing this in Berlin.

I’m not suggesting there was an active rivalry or racial tension between nations or anything; we were all being taught to be as accepting as possible, and mostly were. But in the bizarre multi-ethnic landscape of the international school, out of your natural environment, sharing a nationality with any given student was uncommon at most. With so many people from so many different places, one tended to look for those with a shared experience, for a topic of conversation if for nothing else. Often, being away from home, I just wished there were more English people, who ate English foods, and remembered English children’s television programmes.

Obviously there were still plenty of cross-nationality friendships. Many students had been to international schools before and navigated the landscape well. But in these sorts of relationships, nationalities just weren’t often discussed; without the shared experience of nationality, conversation usually turned to school, just as it would at non-international schools. You could have a far more engaging discussion with someone about how the art department was an utter mess than you ever could about what their life was like as a Nigerian living in Greece. Their connections to a wider international community were no more relevant than they had been in England.

There were actually a few key exceptions to this. Politics was one; I’ve had discussions with Koreans and Poles about their general elections, and learned a lot about the political structure of both countries, while desperately trying to offer a cohesive explanation of British politics in return – these discussions seem to be have become more frequent as we get older and more politically aware. Another exception was good-humoured arguments between countries, where I defended the UK against the USA, France, Germany across a range of topics. Sometimes these had their roots in politics, but often they were just about aspects of culture e.g. ‘Britain has better television than the USA.’ This meant they rarely boiled over into genuine animosity, and often ended up with joking good-naturedly about each nation’s stereotypes. But thanks to these disputes, I felt far more patriotic as an Englishperson in Berlin than I ever had in England.

Moving to a British school in Brussels honestly hasn’t changed much of the international landscape described above. There are more fellow Brits, of course, finally allowing me to have the proper discussions about children’s television I’d been craving, but there are no more of them here than there were Germans at my school in Berlin, and many have mixed heritage, anyway. But even though the level of internationalism is more or less the same, the schools are quite different in teaching style. Which shows that, even with their multi-ethnic student bodies, international schools aren’t especially strange as schools go. No doubt they have their oddities – my Berlin school had a chronic obsession with its theatre students, my Brussels school serves chips in the cafeteria once a week – but so does every school, international or not. Yes, the international community led to a few differences; I may have a little more cultural knowledge, and am probably far less likely to be racist. But on the face of it, all I really did was attend a normal school while happening to live in a different country. Living abroad was the unusual part. Going to school wasn’t.

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Economy

Issuance of green bonds will strengthen the international role of the euro

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Eurogroup ministers discussed the international role of the euro (15 February), following the publication of the European Commission's communication of (19 January), ‘The European economic and financial system: fostering strength and resilience’.

President of the Eurogroup, Paschal Donohoe said: “The aim is to reduce our dependence on other currencies, and to strengthen our autonomy in various situations. At the same time, increased international use of our currency also implies potential trade-offs, which we will continue to monitor. During the discussion, ministers emphasized the potential of green bond issuance to enhance the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate transition objective.”

The Eurogroup has discussed the issue several times in recent years since the December 2018 Euro Summit. Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism said that overreliance on the dollar contained risks, giving Latin America and the Asian crisis of the 90s as examples. He also referred obliquely to “more recent episodes” where the dollar’s dominance meant that EU companies could not continue to work with Iran in the face of US sanctions. Regling believes that the international monetary system is slowly moving towards a multi-polar system where three or four currencies will be important, including the dollar, euro and renminbi. 

European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, agreed that the euro’s role could be strengthened through the issuance of green bonds enhancing the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate objectives of the Next Generation EU funds.

Ministers agreed that broad action to support the international role of the euro, encompassing progress on amongst other things, Economic and Monetary Union, Banking Union and Capital Markets Union were needed to secure the euros international role.

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EU

European human rights court backs Germany over Kunduz airstrike case

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An investigation by Germany into a deadly 2009 airstrike near the Afghan city of Kunduz that was ordered by a German commander complied with its right-to-life obligations, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday (16 February), writes .

The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.

In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.

The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.

The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defence minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.

Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.

For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.

The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force. It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.

Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.

A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.

Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

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EU

Digitalization of EU justice systems: Commission launches public consultation on cross-border judicial co-operation

EU Reporter Correspondent

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On 16 February, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the modernization of EU justice systems. The EU aims to support member states in their efforts to adapt their justice systems to the digital age and improve EU cross-border judicial co-operation. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders (pictured) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digitalization, including in the field of justice. Judges and lawyers need digital tools to be able to work together faster and more efficiently.

At the same time, citizens and businesses need online tools for an easier and more transparent access to justice at a lower cost. The Commission strives to push this process forward and support member states in their efforts, including as regards facilitating their cooperation in cross-border judicial procedures by using digital channels.” In December 2020, the Commission adopted a communication outlining the actions and initiatives intended to advance the digitalization of justice systems across the EU.

The public consultation will gather views on the digitalization of EU cross-border civil, commercial and criminal procedures. The results of the public consultation, in which a broad range of groups and individuals can participate and which is available here until 8 May 2021, will feed into an initiative on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation expected at the end of this year as announced in the 2021 Commission's Work Programme.

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