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The Swiss school where students study Dante in Florence and Flamenco in Seville

When we send our children to school, we expect that they'll learn how to read and write, to understand how the natural world works and how to measure things. Not as widely considered, but perhaps equally important, is the idea of ‘cultural capital’.

The Swiss school where students study Dante in Florence and Flamenco in Seville
Mark Aeschliman and students. Photo: TASIS

First coined by the French philosopher and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu in 1977, the term refers to the understanding of shared societal and cultural knowledge that allows a person to navigate and rise within a society.

You might think of ‘cultural capital’ as the ability to use stories and symbols to communicate effectively; to convince, persuade and inspire. In an increasingly frenetic world, this skill is arguably more important than ever – as is well-recognised at The American School In Switzerland (TASIS).

A school that promotes cultural conversations

Since its foundation in 1956, the independent boarding and day school in the canton of Ticino has made encouraging the development of cultural capital in its students part of its mission. Mark Aeschliman, an Art History and Architecture teacher who has worked at the school for 42 years, sees the approach as a central part of TASISs ethos.

“The school has always been a haven, a kind of neutral ground where students’ cultural backgrounds possess a kind of equivalence,” he says. “Cultures, histories, and points of view are showcased on a daily basis.”

As well as being a place of curriculum-based classroom learning, this means the school also provides a great platform for discussion of “current events and cultural mores,” Aeschliman says.

Alex Secilmis, a recent graduate, agrees with Aeschliman as he reflects on the varied places around the world that the school has taken him. “I went to Seville to learn Spanish and their traditional dances, to Florence to better understand Dante’s Inferno, and to Nepal to witness a radically different way of life,” he says.

A school where beauty matters

The emphasis on improving the mind is also helped by the school’s physical environment. Perched on a hillside in Montagnola, it boasts impressive views of snow-capped mountains and Lake Lugano, as well as striking buildings.

As Aeschliman states: “The school’s setting in the centre of Europe, in neutral, safe Switzerland, most certainly has an impact on developing minds. One of the pillars of the school is ‘beauty’, and the beauty of the world is on full display daily among the pre-Alps above Lake Lugano. The school’s founders also made a commitment to commission only works of classical architecture for the school’s campus.”

Offering both the International Baccalaureate and the Advanced Placement program, the school also subscribes to the ideas of E.D. Hirsch, the American curriculum expert. Hirsch advocates for a greater focus on cultural literacy, not only examining the meanings behind the stories and symbols we share, but also their changing significance over time.

This cannot be done without engaging with the wider world on a regular basis. Aeschliman says this is “a school where the mantra is ‘Europe is our classroom’.”

Even in the physical classroom, students are able to boost their cultural capital through the Core Knowledge curriculum that stresses increased lesson time in social studies and history as a vital component. This guided program begins in Pre-Kindergarten and continues throughout Elementary School.

Download TASIS’s brochures for Elementary, Middle and High School or request further information –  or to arrange a visit to the campus or a video meeting click here

A school where you can dream ‘big’

This is not just a school that excels academically. As Secilmis tells us, teachers at the school support students in pursuing their deepest personal interests – sometimes going to surprising lengths.

“I worked in a program called ‘TASIS Student Films’,” he says. “The teachers were open enough to let me follow my interests and try out a broad range of styles. It was a hands-on experience with the help of a great team, and in my last year I went ahead and made a feature-length comedy with a cast of 40 students and teachers. 


Creating together: Mark Aeschliman and a student. Photo: TASIS

“The initiative was my own, but TASIS gave me a great platform. The curriculum is eclectic so that you can really challenge yourself academically, whether that’s aiming for a certain university or just figuring out what your passions are.” Secilmis is now studying fillm theory at King’s College London.

Any student graduating from TASIS can expect to gain admission to a quality university in the US or Europe – including, in some cases, the world’s most selective institutions. Top performers include students interested in business careers, as well as cultural pursuits.

The school’s 2020 valedictorian, Giulia Meregalli, is studying Finance at the University of Cambridge and has already begun a career in management consultancy and strategy. 

“I’ll miss the ability to relate and build connections with people from all over the world – and being part of such an international student body,” she says. “I’ll also miss the at-home feeling that I knew at TASIS, feeling as stable, at ease, and comfortable as I would at home.”

A school where you experience the world

TASIS was the first American boarding school in Europe. Today the student body comprises 60 nationalities and 42 spoken languages. Students from all around the world get to take part in all kinds of international festivals throughout the year: major American festivals such as Thanksgiving, local festivals, and those celebrated by the various nationalities of the students.

Students are constantly reminded that they are part of a greater whole, of a world that can be understood and celebrated. In a world as unpredictable as we’ve experienced this year, the ability to relate to and understand people from all backgrounds will help the new generation flourish and thrive. In this respect, it seems that TASIS succeeds admirably by helping students develop ‘cultural capital’ – and much more besides.

Interested in learning more about TASIS? To arrange a visit to the campus or a video meeting with the admissions team, click here. For more information about applying to TASIS, click here. And to learn about the TASIS Summer Programs, click here.

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EDUCATION

What financial aid are foreign students entitled to in Switzerland?

The academic year in Swiss universities started on September 19th, with thousands of foreign students enrolled in many of the country’s higher education institutions. but are they entitled to any financial help whilst in the country?

What financial aid are foreign students entitled to in Switzerland?

Switzerland has 10 public universities — in Basel, Bern, Fribourg, Geneva, Neuchâtel, Lausanne, Lucerne, Lugano,  St. Gallen, and Zurich — as well as two institutes of technology located in Lausanne and Zurich.

Besides their field of orientation, the difference between “regular” universities and the polytechnics is that the former are cantonal institutions while the latter two are federal — both in terms of administration and funding.

In addition, there is a number of specialised universities  of applied sciences, as well as teacher training colleges.

A significant number of Swiss universities are highly ranked, with some, like Zurich’s polytechnic institute (ETH), positioned among the top schools worldwide and in the first place in continental Europe.

Because of their reputation for high-quality education, scores of international students apply to one of these schools each year, according to the Federal Statistical Office (FSO).

At the start of the 2020 academic year (the last data available), nearly 12,300 new international students enrolled in Swiss universities — 4 percent more than in the previous year — despite the Covid pandemic and travel restrictions.   

EXPLAINED: How can foreigners get into a Swiss university?

As the article linked above explains, “overall, the cost of studying in Switzerland is much lower than at top universities in the UK or the United States, but foreign students pay a significantly higher tuition than locals”.

The reason is that Swiss universities are public, which means they are partly supported by tax revenue, so people who don’t reside in Switzerland have to shell out more money to study here.

As a general indication, in 2021,  foreign Bachelor students at the University of St. Gallen had to pay a semester fee which is 2.5 times higher than that of Swiss residents — 3,129 francs compared to 1,229 francs.

In the Masters program, the ratio was 2.3 (3,329 francs against 1,429 francs).

At the University of Italian Switzerland in Lugano, the most expensive in the country, foreign students paid double, or 4,000 francs.

READ MORE : How much universities in Switzerland charge foreigners compared to locals

But that’s not all : Apart from the tuition and additional fees for study-associated materials, you will have to pay rent for housing where you will live, as well as for meals, public transport, the obligatory health insurance policy, and whatever other miscellaneous costs you may incur.

Speaking of health policy, whether or not you need to buy one in Switzerland depends on where you came from and what kind of plan you have in your home country:

Do foreign students in Switzerland need to get a Swiss health insurance policy?

Are foreign students entitled to Swiss financial aid?

The expectation is that anyone from abroad should support themselves financially while studying in Switzerland.

But that is often not the case.

In such situations, international students can get some financial assistance from  the Federal Commission for Scholarships for Foreign Students (FCS).

The list of those eligible to apply is, however, limited to some postgraduate candidates and researchers from certain countries.

To check whether your nation is eligible for the programme, you can contact the Swiss Embassy or consulate in your home country.

Individual universities also offer some assistance.

University of Geneva, for instance, offers a stipend, designed especially for students who cannot benefit from the cantonal scholarship, including foreigners.

This site explains who is entitled to such assistance and how to apply.

As for ETH in Zurich, it offers some funds for both Bachelor and Masters-level students from abroad.

The conditions are outlined in this PDF document.

The situation is similar at ETH’s sister institution, the Federal Polytechnic Institute of Lausanne (EPFL), which offers help for foreign students who fulfill certain criteria.

Most other Swiss universities also have some sort of programmes to help foreign students financially, although none will offer enough money to help finance studies 100 percent.

 It is best to contact your university directly to find out what, if any, financial aid is available to foreign students, and under what conditions.
 

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