ISSOS "The Experience of a Lifetime"
Did you just tell me I am going to teach at ISSOS in America!?
I've always dreamed of travelling to America and visiting New York City. But I never thought that when I did eventually go, it would be to teach at an International Summer School at YALE University in New Haven, Connecticut.
But that's what just happened.....
This summer has been exciting, fun (and at some points absolutely bonkers,) exhilarating, positively challenging and completely life changing for me on a personal level. The ISSOS Slogan is "the experience of a lifetime" and I can vouch for every word of it.
ISSOS run their Summer School programme at three universities, St. Andrews, Cambridge and YALE.
I will never forget meeting Jen Munro the founder of ISSOS, for the first time and instantly wanting to be a part of what she had created. I remember leaving the ISSOS office and calling my mum saying - "I think I have just been asked to teach at YALE this summer!" But surely not I told myself- I was just so excited after hearing more and I just wanted the chance to be in amongst it.
So, when the email arrived, I still was doubtful asking "Are you telling me I am teaching at ISSOS this summer in America?...."
"YES!" the response read....and that's where the journey started!
THE VISA JOURNEY
Leaving the U.S Embassy in London the day I got my Visa approved felt like an accomplishment in itself, and I remember being so excited thinking "this is real, I am going to America!" but also feeling worried that I would be different to all the other staff, the odd one out with my blue hair and tattoos - I couldn't have been more wrong! I was about to meet a team of awesome individuals and lifelong friends.
ISSOS YALE STAFF TEAM 2019
The counsellors were instrumental in ensuring the students felt safe whilst making the most of their ISSOS experience - and probably had one of the toughest jobs but they always managed to make it look fun! The head counsellors Megan and Fraser were legendary and made me laugh every day, whilst keeping me right. I couldn't have done my job without them. The same goes for the ISSOS head office team who manage to make running a live event for three weeks look incredibly easy, and nothing was a problem. I felt you could pretty much ask anything of them and the answer would be Yes - they just know how to make things happen!
The teaching staff all have unique individual experiences, talent and charisma to no end. I can't do them justice in this feature really. What I will say however, is that I felt overwhelmed at how close we all became as a group of friends from the very beginning and I feel lucky that some of the best memories I have made to date in life were with all of them. From kayaking trips, lobster rolls and Juicy Lucy beers, visiting NYC for the weekend and staying at Fifth Avenue, dressing up in costume, face paint or performing challenges on a daily basis, beach trips with drones and thunderstorms, enjoying oyster happy hours (A LOT!), late night visits to Brick Oven Pizza (man I miss that pizza) did you know thesecret is to sprinkle on some garlic salt and parmesan? - incredible!) Clam pizza at Modern A (everyone needs to try this!) Drag shows, tequila nights,shopping at the outlets (I may have overspent a little....) firefly shows in the garden, there wasn't a day that wasn't an adventure.
Our local haunt Box 63 Bar & Grill kindly gifted me a Coney Island Mermaid beer sign - because of the blue mermaid hair! OK I did hint, A LOT that I would really love that sign - but I did not expect them to order a new one in just so I could have it- I am forever grateful that got safely home to Scotland and Is now hanging above my bathtub!
I wasn't sure if it was the jet lag that made me feel I had been transported back in time to the most incredible looking gothic style campus, but I knew on arrival that this was no ordinary University Gaff.
I, of course expected as much given the reputation for being one of the USA's top Ivy League Universities, and being renowned for being the most stunningly beautiful University campus in the US, however nothing can prepare you for the reality of actually being there. YALE campus consists of 265 acres which means you see signs for YALE buildings, theatres, libraries, gyms, shops and cafes pretty much wherever you walk throughout New Haven.
I stayed on campus in student halls on the fifth floor with 10 of the other female teaching staff. This sounds like it might have been a bit of a squeeze, but the buildings were huge and my room had more furniture than my bedroom back home! It was just the heat that got some getting used to - My fan was never off! When I realised we were on the fifth floor and there would be a daily stair climb this made me laugh, as back home I am in a top floor flat and the stairs is a daily ritual that I thought I wasn't going to miss this summer! In hindsight though the stairs were a much-needed workout to compensate for the amount of pizza I was consuming on a daily basis!
IT IS ALL ABOUT THE STUDENTS
The most important part of ISSOS is the students. Every day the students would attend their chosen academic class in the morning and theirchosen elective class in the afternoon. As well as their chosen academic andelective subjects, the students enjoy daily activities, evening events,cultural trips to Boston and New York City and creative Sunday workshops. I will never forget being witness to 142 international students learning highland dancing in the YALE Gym Hall or energetically chanting their Clan chant on the football fields. It also humoured me to be hosting a Welly Wanging competition during highland games - yep who knew throwing wellies could be so much fun, not to mention competitive!
During the New York trip, I was part of the staff team responsible for leading the students through central Park to Time Square -bearing in mind this was my first ever moment seeing the sights of the city -whilst keeping my eye on the traffic lights and doing numerous head counts atevery crossing - that day was incredible. Just to see the students faces when they stepped out of the park and into the city - These moments were priceless.
If you want to bringout a student's competitive winning streak, recruit them to a clan! Clan activities and chants are a part of ISSOS culture and it is non-stop. A clan chanting their war cry during meal times to entice another clan to compete would not be out of place in the dining hall - neither would the efforts that are put into preparing for clan events in true clan warrior style - face paint and all! The students are split into four clans, Wallace, McGregor, Macdonald and Stewart, each with their respective clan colours.
Returning staff counsellors are always part of their original clan and Teachers are part of clan Munro and our job is to help support , judge and umpire clan activities. Clan activities are an opportunity to showcase skills and personality and earn points - which go towards winning the Clan cup and of course chanting as loud as possible! There is also an opportunity for Teachers to award clan spirit points for a team or individual that has been a shining example and may not have won the most points but showed true clan spirit.
MY BUSINESS & ENTREPRENEURSHIP CLASS
I loved every day of teaching my class, and was encouraged at the rapid rate of the student's confidence and abilities progressed in just three short weeks. I had 24 international students, from Kenya, Mexico, Norway, China,Turkey, India, Greece, Germany, Austria, Poland, Korea, Russia, Ukraine, England and America. English is the language spoken at ISSOS and every single student worked hard to develop their communication and presentation skills - and would graciously let me know whenever they couldn't understand my Scottish twang. Fortunately, the communication within my class was really strong, and the students worked together well as a team to support each other. This was a result of focusing on goals they wanted to achieve from day one, both personally and for their business ideas. The students also created their own set of class rules that they felt were important to their learning. I was delighted when they started listing rules around respecting each other and giving helpful feedback and listening.
Something I wanted to teach them was how to bring out their full potential in themselves and also each other whilst developing their business knowledge and skills, and this shone through in every group activity and presentation. The difference in their confidence and presentation techniques from day one to being on stage at their Dragon's Den event was testament to their hard work and achievements in class each day. Each business team developed excellent business ideas, with some including the concept for Gym Energy Generators (aptly named G.E.G) which would allow gym equipment to generate energy for people in the community that needed it most to another idea which developed into a company called Newtron Shoes. This business idea had a value proposition of manufacturing multi-purpose shoes that would revolutionise how we would wear and purchase shoes for the future. This class of students has big ambitions, so much talent and will no doubt be the leaders in their chosen field in thefuture.
The efforts and development of the student's business ideas were celebrated at the infamous Dragon's Den evening which takes part every year at ISSOS in front of every student and staff member, and is still one of the most anticipated events. This year however not just the four finalist groups presented to the audience on the night, but in fact every student business team. This allowed every student the opportunity to step on stage and share their journey in business& entrepreneurship and present the ideas they worked hard on throughout their three weeks in class. Four finalist groups presented their full business pitch, and all the other business teams/individual presented atwo-minute elevator pitch and got feedback from a selected Dragon. The Dragon's played a pivotal part in theevent, offering feedback, insight, advice and also hypothetical funding for the business idea they would invest in most.
The panel included special guest Kris Bryson,Partnership Director at Wildhearts who flew especially from Scotland to host a workshop for the students on Business for Good, which was a great opportunity for the students to discover how they could apply this concept to their developing business ideas.
It was a proud moment watching every business team presentfrom both classes, knowing just how much they had progressed from that first day in class. It is amazing to think that on their first few days some of the students actually declared "There is no way I am presenting on stage" when actually those same students were those that went on to lead the way with the most confident presentations that made itto the Dragon's Den finals.
The hardest part of leaving home for the summer was leaving my buddy Dusty behind, who is usually my wee shadow. I was lucky to have friends to watch her with even more furry friends to keep her company -but I still missed her every day and spoke about her every day and shared her photos with staff every day (sorry guys!) To be fair through there was running theme of a love for dogs at ISSOS and I believe next year there will be a new pup at YALE Campus, owned by one of the residents! I hope we can get him/heran ISSOS bandana so they can be part of the gang! To make up for my absence to Dusty, I did bring back a part of YALE in the form of a dog toy bought from the YALE shop that we nicknamed YALEY, who is now, never too far away from Dusty.
So, I am sure she has forgiven me!
BRING ON NEXT YEAR!
I am so grateful to my employer Young Enterprise Scotland for giving me the opportunity to work with ISSOS and supporting me to work overseas this Summer. The learning experience has been invaluable and I look forward to sharing my learnings and experiences with my students at Ayrshire College. And to the full team at ISSOS and the YALE staff team, I can't thank you all enough. I still can't quite believe how amazing this summer has been, or that it is all over. I miss the banter. I was surprised how every second American (or so it felt) would comment "I love your blue hair" and just how Americans in general would genuinely give compliments and say what they were thinking to try and make someone's day that bit better- I thought it would start to feel cheesy but it was refreshing! The upbeat vibe of ISSOS and everything about it was addictive and makes me think of the analogy Julia used when I first met her.. She said, "at ISSOS once you drink the Kool Aid you're hooked!" She was not wrong! I am glad I got the chance to drink the Kool Aid and I look forward to more ISSOS adventures in the future!
For more information on ISSOS Summer Schools and applications for 2020 visit
Check out some of the video highlights below from ISSOS YALE 2019
ISSOS YALE MEMORIES 2019
CLAN LIFE AT ISSOS YALE 2019
STAFF LIP SYNC ISSOS YALE 2019