For one ISL teacher, every year is a chance to take on a new challenge – from becoming a rock star to taking up transcendental meditation.

Most of us make a New Year’s resolution. A few people make the same one every year. Some even manage to stay true to their good intentions until February. For one ISL teacher, however, every year is a chance to take on a new challenge – from becoming a rock star to taking up transcendental meditation.

Each 7th of November on her birthday, Lisa Marlow sets herself a new task or skill to master. “When I hit my forties I thought, right, the kids are getting older, life’s too short, and there are things I really want to do,” she said. “It started with drumming. I’ve always wanted to be a rock star. I have always been into music and played various instruments as a kid, but drumming was something I really wanted to do. I picked up the drums and started playing whenever I could.”

Then came an activity not usually associated with Switzerland. “My next challenge was surfing. It was something my husband enjoyed, and the kids were keen. We started in Hossegor, France, and have since surfed in Wales as well as the warmer waters of Costa Rica.”

In addition to her supportive husband and children, inspiration comes from her mother, who also embraced life and was prone to take on a new challenge. “The whole catalyst for trying new things was my mom’s death,” said Lisa. “That’s where that stems from. It was a huge wake up call. I was in my late twenties and she was fifty-three. It really affected me as did the death of my dad. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s just after mom died and succumbed to the disease in 2017.”

“My mother was one of those people who would do random things to shake life up a bit. She always had so much energy and embraced life, even though she had her own struggles. Mom always gave back to those around her but somehow found the time to try to do things that were upbeat and fun.”

“We lived in a very small community in the prairies in Canada (once described by my husband as ‘a tiny settlement in the middle of a 200-mile wheatfield!’). Mom was also a teacher and my father was an avid outdoorsman, artist, and ran his own flooring business. Between raising four children and working full-time, they were both driven to serve their community: Lions Club, Recreation Committee, Minor Hockey, they seemed to be on every committee. Mom even started the first recycling centre in southern Manitoba.”

With her parents’ example as inspiration, Lisa chose to take up a new challenge each year. But why on her birthday? Lisa said: “It’s to mark the birth of a new year. What am I going to accomplish this year? How can I better myself? What can I learn from and/or share with others? Although life is already very busy, setting little challenges keeps me on my toes. Also a lot of it is physical, so it’s keeping me relatively healthy.”

Canadian by birth and proudly Swiss since 2015, Lisa has lived in Switzerland for twenty years and worked for fifteen of those at ISL. Starting as a learning support specialist, she now teaches in the Upper Primary.

After drumming and surfing, ice hockey was next on the list. Not a difficult one to fit into her family life as her three sons play. “I live at ice rinks! I spend a lot of time there and I thought, rather than sit and watch, I might as well give it a go. So I joined a team.” Lockdown meant playing was limited, so training via Zoom has taken the place of practice on the rink.

Looking ahead, there are two – quite different – activities to tackle. “My greatest goal is to breakdance,” said Lisa. “I’ve never tried it and always admired people who can do it. I desperately want to do it but fear I may break a hip!” Before popping, heel spinning, and backflipping, Lisa will take up the less hectic pursuit of meditation. “I’m looking to centre more. With the chaos going on all around us right now in the world, it’s important to take a step back and instill a sense of calm and appreciate how fortunate we are. Meditation is another skill to add to my toolbox. A couple of colleagues have done it and said it’s been absolutely life changing.” However, if time and budget were no object, then it would be a service helping others which Lisa would aspire to.

“My greatest goal is to breakdance.”

“I have really enjoyed supporting our students with various service projects over the years. On top of encouraging students to take part in service, the staff here at ISL are incredibly receptive to engaging in service. We are hoping to initiate a whole staff Service Day within the school or the local community. A few of us have also discussed doing something globally, like joining up with a school in a developing country. Going abroad and spending some time there, that’s something I would love to do. Setting myself challenges is really such a privilege; serving and learning from others…to me this is central to leading a fulfilled life. As Mahatma Gandhi said: ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

And, ultimately, this drive and desire to set challenges and to serve others comes through in Lisa’s work at ISL: “As teachers, I suppose our biggest challenge is to try to infuse these principles into our practice – to make it as fun and engaging as possible on the one hand but challenging on the other, encouraging children to do what’s right and to be kind to one another all the while. Next to being a parent, teaching is my most rewarding challenge. I simply love it – I hope that it shines through.”

Gradient Issue #2: The magazine of the International School of Lausanne

In this edition, we explore how our community has coped during this special year to make the best of it. We also have a special section on multilingualism and how it can both benefit and challenge our students.