Happy Days School celebrates its 25th year in business this year. It has given many people very happy days to look back on over the years; this is in a way an account of mine. At almost 22, the school is only a little bit older than I am and there literally isn’t a time I can’t remember the school being a part of my summer holidays with my Nana, Nani and family. This is the story of a school and its growth certainly, but also the story of a girl from Switzerland, becoming in time more than just the principal’s niece.
As a little girl, the highlights of my summer vacations in Shivpuri were visits to the playgrounds of the school. I can’t say I remember much about those days, but to see how the school has developed and expanded over the years makes me proud to have grown up alongside it. I took great pleasure in informing the children of my literary hobby group, who envy the kindergartners of today, that most of the toys in the nursery come from Switzerland and once belonged to me and my sister. To see toys that gave me such joy put to use like this made me happy long before my association with the school deepened in recent months.
I feel proud that the literary hobby group was apparently formed just because I came on board at the school for a while. There are huge differences in the educational systems here in India and back in Switzerland. I suppose it’s easy for me to preach about the importance of school pride, now that I’m technically done with school myself. But a fact I am trying to instil in my hobby group is how lucky they are to stay in the same school through the entire 12 years of their formative education.
I moved around more than most people during my school years, when bullies made a transfer necessary in the eighth grade. But even for the average Swiss student, kindergarten, primary and high schools are normally in three different locations, even in the small towns like I’m from. To witness the evolution of one’s school like the students of Happy Days do over a period of twelve to fifteen years is unique and something to be very proud of in my opinion. The closest thing I ever had to that was being a student at my primary school when the building turned one hundred years old. For my little town that was a grand affair, but when I compare the festivities to the likes of celebrations at Happy Days, it feels completely insignificant.
It’s true that India has many more holy festivities and holidays than Switzerland, so being in Shivpuri for more than the average three weeks of my summer vacation in July has been a learning experience on more than one level. Having so many festivals serves as inspiration for the constant plays the school performs I suppose, because the love of theatrical expression is definitely something the Swiss people lack. In Switzerland primary school ends after the fifth grade and at the end of that year was the only time I was ever in a school play. I was incidentally nothing more than the narrator at the very beginning of the play, an early sign of my expression best coming through with words.
There is a quote above the lockers in the school room saying “There is no such thing as a bad student, only bad teachers.” When I first saw that poster on my first day of being the teacher instead of a student, it terrified me. My teachers in school all used to preach about how wonderful “lightbulb moments” were, when kids suddenly understand the lessons. Being the student, I never understood that back then, but now I can honestly say that I do.
After passing on the German language I grew up and studied with my entire life to the literary hobby kids for just a few weeks and seeing their bright enthusiasm, it’s like there’s no greater feeling in the world than these kids remembering something so foreign to them week after week. The vivid recall could be down to how much harder kids here study than Swiss students, but enthusiasm is something that can’t be forced and to see it there to the extent of being approached after class for help is just the most indescribably wonderful feeling.
Even being in a teaching position now myself, I still have the greatest respect for the nursery and kindergarten teachers. I spent some time with the little kids as well initially and while they are undeniably adorable, to keep such little children occupied is something I found extremely challenging. The language barrier might certainly be a part of that, making one of my personal aims in the coming months to improve my Hindi if possible. But even if I could understand the little ones, matching their energy and keeping up with the short attention spans was really tough.
For the first few weeks spent mostly in the KG section, the literary hobby sessions on weekends were a clear highlight for me. Although it was nerve-wrecking at first, slowly getting to know that group of kids better and the great reception of my German lessons made it gradually more exciting week by week. And now here I am, the Swiss Miss become Rina Didi and sometimes even (disturbingly I might add) Ma’am to the masses at Happy Days. Already there have been experiences I wouldn’t have dreamed of a few months ago, such as the brief speech on Independence Day. Sad as it may be, my regular students here are sweeter than any friends I’ve ever had. There are less pleasant differences between the educational systems o f Switzerland and India, but the great acceptance is one difference I am very thankful for. Long Live Happy Days School!