There are many elements that make American School of The Hague a special place to learn and grow, and undoubtedly one of the defining characteristics of the school’s unique atmosphere is the diversity of cultures and nationalities represented in our school community. Walking down the hallways, you are certain to hear notes of conversations in a myriad of languages; from Swedish to Spanish; Dutch to Chinese; English to Arabic, and everything in between; as students chat privately amongst each other or speak openly to peers and teachers. It is safe to say that with over 70 nationalities in our student body, every day is an “International Day” at ASH, with the diversity of culture displayed proudly every day in our lives.
Each year, all of our students, staff and parents take a moment to pause and celebrate this diversity, in an annual event that showcases our community heritage from around the world: International Day. The name itself generates a buzz of excitement and a swirl of feelings that is in some ways, indescribable. Because this event involves everyone in our school community, each person has their own individual and personal memories, feelings and attachments to the day - making it difficult to choose just one word to describe this momentous event. Meaningful, celebratory, educational, fun, exciting, energizing, collaborative, community, joyful, - each of these words paints a colorful picture on how the event is experienced. It's a day where we each recognize the differences in each other with honor and respect, celebrating each other’s cultural history, and uniting as one community of global citizens.
This event did not grow overnight into this beautiful manifestation, it took decades of hard work, dedication and determination by thousands of parent volunteers, students and staff to come to fruition. The initial idea started off small in the 1991/1992 school year, with the PTO asking some international parents to organize a cultural day, once per month, with speeches, food and dance, all representing their home country. The goal was modest: to help generate a greater cultural understanding amongst elementary school aged students at ASH. Those monthly cultural presentations – embraced enthusiastically by the parents - were the first steps towards cultivating some key community elements, like the International Parent Ambassador contacts and the International Committee, and ultimately International Day itself.
This idea was taken one step further during the 1993-1994 school year, with an official committee of elementary school teachers and parents forming to organize a larger platform that showcased the richness of cultural differences amongst the school population. The first International Day in the spring of 1994 was a tremendous success, a culmination of all these ideas and more. Students and teachers were encouraged to wear their own national dress, and could “travel around” to different “countries” by exploring cultural displays of food, language, music, maps and various objects. This first international day ensured that our youngest learners were given the opportunity to engage and interact with the concept of cultural diversity with all of their senses, alongside people that were personally invested in their education.
Over the years and decades, International Day grew and evolved to accommodate the ideas, enthusiasm and participation of the entire ASH community. In 2005, the middle school took part for the first time, followed shortly after by the high school, and has been coined as an “all school event” ever since. The original elements of “country classrooms” has remained a staple of the day, with our youngest students “traveling” around to different locations in the school with their “passport”, to learn as much as they can about the countries on display. High school students take this one step further, by creating country booths for their peers and middle school students to explore, where the students (and their families) take pride in arranging a display that represents their country. All members of the ASH community wear their national dress with pride, ranging from traditional or ceremonial clothing to mainstream clothing pieces like plaid shirts and hockey helmets. Seeing the smiling faces of young and old alike, proudly reflecting elements of their homeland, is something that unifies the sense of our accepting, respectful, global community.
As participation grew, so did the program, which now kicks off with the Country Flag Parade and Opening Ceremony, reminiscent of worldwide events like the Olympic Games opening ceremonies. The oldest student from each of our represented nationalities has the honor of carrying their country flag in the parade - a tradition that passes down the honor each year to the next oldest student. The Opening Ceremony sees all of our students and staff in attendance, with many of our parents and even diplomatic dignitaries as onlookers in the audience. Students have the chance to perform a traditional or modern dance, musical act, unique routine or even MC the entire event, as a way to showcase individual or group talents. And at the end of ceremony, the audience joins together to raise their voice in singing the school song “Tell Me, Tell Me”, as it expresses: "Children from around the world, have so much to share, people in their vast varieties. We can make a better world by trying hard to see that beautiful things are found in you and me." The energy generated by our community coming together for this kick off cultural celebration seeps into every following activity throughout the day, as our students lead and explore the learning opportunities presented as the day unfolds.
The events span across our campuses, encompassing classrooms, public spaces like the cafeterias, atrium, gymnasiums and our Sportshall. In recent years, our learners on the ECC campus tuned in via live streaming to watch the opening ceremonies, together with their classmates, in the comfort of their own classrooms. Within their own ECC campus space, our youngest students could “explore the countries” set up for them in the ECC gym and enjoy their own cultural parade, designed with their young learning perspective in mind and ensuring that all of our students, no matter where their learning takes place, can take part in this special day of learning.
With the arrival of COVID-19, our approach to this cornerstone event has had to take a different lens, with this year the event being completely virtual, for the first time ever. Our dedicated and hardworking PTO have done a miraculous job of planning a virtual experience that holds as much of the flavor, excitement, and meaning that the in-person event embodies. Most importantly, the resilience to move forward with this ASH tradition, in a time when things have been so uncertain, illustrates even further the importance that International Day plays in the sense of celebrating our community. Upon further reflection, perhaps when looking for one word to describe what international day means; unforgettable may be the best choice of all - as in no matter what form this event takes, or how you participate - International Day at ASH will always leave you with a truly unforgettable experience.