|3 Nov 2023|
People might speculate about the value of international travel for young kids. Would they even remember anything about places visited? Wouldn’t kids be better off playing at a local beach or in a park?
Florian Keulers, age 26, not only lauds the value of international travel but also of international living for young kids. And more precisely, Florian credits living in India and attending the American Embassy School (AES) from ages four (2001) to eight (2005) as tremendously formative—feeling that many aspects of his current adult life reflect aspects of his experience at AES.
And for the record, Florian says the memories are alive and well! Unlike crystallized photograph-like memories of events or celebrations, Florian’s are dynamic, multi-sensory, and layered. With the opportunity to travel back to India three times this past year—including a campus visit—Florian has been very much re-engaged with his time spent at AES. As immediately as stepping off the plane and into a car, Florian’s senses were awakened—scents of mixed spices wafting in from shops, swirls of sari colors dancing just outside the car, honking horns of tuk-tuks and bigger cars, and always a slightly gritty happy warmth hanging in the air. And it’s these tastes, smells, sights, and feelings that tele-transport Florian back to his childhood.
Born to Dutch diplomats, Florian was on the move from day one—his family generally relocating every three to five years. Florian spent his first year of life in Islamabad, Pakistan, the next three in The Hague, and then to New Delhi where he enrolled at the American Embassy School. He would leave AES to move to Bangkok for five years, then The Hague, and then Prague where he graduated from high school. He then moved to London and Oxford for his university studies in political economy. And Florian now lives in The Hague where he works as a policy advisor on G20, Ukraine, and World Bank matters for the Dutch government.
When asked these days, what’s your favorite country, Florian would say it’s about living in the right country at the right time. And India was exactly that for Florian: Florian’s time at AES aligned with when he was just coming into his own autonomy—reaching an age where he could make his own choices, pick his own activities, have some freedom on campus—or as our mission states: begin to joyfully pursue excellence in the areas he cared most about. And he took full advantage. He especially loved to swim and play other games on the fields and around campus.
Florian is also keenly aware that the magic of the AES was not limited to its facilities but really most of all about its people. His parents still tell him today that AES is where he learned to communicate and express himself. While Florian didn’t speak English when he got there, and his parents clearly appreciated this acquisition, they were probably referring to something more—to the fact that AES was where Florian became aware of the bigger world, of how diverse it is, and how to communicate with everyone across all kinds of cultural lines. With so many kids from so many different countries, there were many different rules of play, ways of saying things, foods to eat, traditions to learn about, and Florian enjoyed following his curiosity; he was an active kid on a big campus with lots of people to talk to! One of the nice things about an international upbringing is that you have friends all around the world, living similarly nomadic lives. And so it was a testament to the strong bonds formed at AES that Florian reconnected with former classmates Justin Boeing and Jake Glasmacher whilst studying in the United Kingdom more than a decade later.
Besides the obvious growth that Florian showed as a student at AES, there was also something more quietly developing in him and this was his finding a sense of home and familiarity among such a diversity of students and within the distinct and sometimes even quite potent aspects of Indian culture—from spicy food, to loud noises, to new scents, to new languages, to Indian celebrations, to extreme weather. It was almost as if Florian was undergoing some kind of Indian culture osmosis to be realized much later. And in fact, just recently while traveling in India for work, when some of his colleagues were experiencing a bit of culture shock—Florian felt quite comfortable, even comforted by the vibrant chaos of Old Delhi.
On his third trip to India this year, when Florian had the opportunity to visit the AES campus, he noticed that everything seemed a bit smaller—from the swimming pool where he learned to swim to the Banyan tree where he remembers having outdoor classes. But upon reflection, Florian is also struck by how big everything related to AES still feels in his world. From learning English, to learning to swim, to reading independently, to discovering cricket, to finding the confidence to speak his mind, a lot of things clicked and were launched for Florian at AES.
He continues to speak perfect English (even more fluidly than Dutch), swims, loves to read, and plays cricket, but most of all has found work where it is his job to speak his mind, to seek diverse opinions, and to ultimately look for overlaps—and in doing so, to build a better, more connected world.