Gisele Berard-Poggio, the longest-serving language instructor at Les Roches School of International Hotel Management, shares some of her favourite things about the school.
Yes, I am proud to say that I am the longest serving member of staff. Some people might wonder why anyone would want to stay in one place all this time, and in this article I wanted to reflect on some of the reasons.
Coincidentally, the things I love most are the things that haven’t changed during the 32 years that I’ve been here, and that – in a world where everything is instant and has a lifespan of a mayfly – really is something worth celebrating.
Les Roches is all about connection.
Obviously you are in touch with students all the time because you teach them. But also, once they leave, they stay in touch. The amount of Christmas cards I get is amazing.
I take such pleasure in seeing former students coming back after 10 or 15 years with their wives or husbands and their children, and in seeing how proud they are to show them around the school.
Les Roches is in the Guinness Book for something. You think it’s the largest number of students in a swimming pool, right? Yes, but not only. It’s registered as the smallest village in the world with the greatest number of nationalities. When I think of this, it amazes me.
Every day, little Bluche, up in the Swiss Alps, is connected to the whole world. Everyday, someone is talking about Bluche. To their mum in India, their cousin in China, their grandmother in the USA. We are connected 24 hours a day to the entire world. That’s amazing.
You know, a few semesters ago, I was teaching a Chinese student. Her phone accidentally went off in class. Now, normally students are not allowed their phones on in class, and she was very embarrassed and said ‘sorry, sorry. Oh no! It’s my mother’. And I said, ‘come on, if it’s your mother, you have to answer’. And she was about to go out of the class and I said, ‘it’s fine – you can speak to her here.’ Anyway. We all ended up greeting her mother: ‘1,2,3… ‘bonjour!’ It’s amazing. Her mother – there on the other side of the world in Shanghai province, connected to students in an Alpine village in Switzerland.
2. Les Roches is about freedom and creativity
Freedom keeps you young. Our management trusts us and has confidence in us. You come to work in the morning and you know you have a certain freedom. Freedom leads you to creativity. You can put that into new ideas. You are always having new ideas and the freedom to test new ideas out with the students.
Les Roches is a very peaceful, no stress place. When you consider so many different communities, the religious communities here, etc. this is amazing. There are no problems. There is no ‘clan’. Everyone really integrates, it’s really very calm. What makes it this way? We never say ‘don’t talk about this or that’. I don’t know the answer to that question, but I know that the peaceful environment really does help to keep me feeling positive.
4. Family environment
Since I have been here, there has always been a great family atmosphere. When I started, sure, the numbers were fewer. I had around 10 in my class and there were around 100 students in total. But, even though Les Roches is huge now, we have managed to keep that family ambiance somehow. Not as intense, true, but it is there. And if you want a good relationship with your students, you can have it. They come to you and ask what you did at the weekend. It’s not anonymous, our students are not just a number. They are people. Individuals who we like and who we can get to know.
So, there’s so much to celebrate in being 60. Life, young spirit and regeneration. If you want to share your favourite things about Les Roches with me, we can have a coffee at my favourite place: on the terrace with a view of the mountains.
I should be here for a while longer and will stay long after retirement if they are willing to keep me – that’s how much I love it.
Alternatively, with my fabulous connections with alumni around the world, I might just be going on the world’s best ever retirement tour.
It’s a tough call!