By Madeleine Hewitt
I first learned of ISTA in 1992 while teaching at Taipei American School (TAS). While at TAS I was invited to accompany middle school drama club sponsor Nancy Mock on an ISTA trip to Thailand.
Together we travelled to the International School of Bangkok (ISB) with a young and eager troupe of students. For me that trip was signature-special. It offered the classic ISTA weekend full of experiential learning, inspiring all of us with great workshops, presentations and creative ensemble work. Throughout the week-end the spirit of innovation and discovery was alive.
Through the years I attended other ISTA events in Brussels, Milan, Cairo and Taipei – all these trips gave our students a special experience with other young talents and allowed each student to thrive in a remarkably nurturing and risk-friendly environment.
What is it about ISTA that ultimately changes lives? It’s risk. It’s safety. It’s exploration, collaboration and play. Ultimately, it’s a formative learning experience which allows students individually and collectively to make discoveries about many things.
Most significant perhaps is that students are empowered to discover their own values and beliefs, and to more fully develop their identities. How does it happen? Students and their sponsors from international schools arrive at the host school. Talented professional artists/educators fly in to lead the workshops and the ensembles. The workshop/ensemble leaders create the atmosphere. As ISTA aficionado Fenella Kelly describes it, the participants are all invited into a “3rd space”. That is a space in which they can dare to be someone else. They can explore, experiment, take risks. They can mimic, rift, innovate and connect. Students are drawn to this world of the 3rd space and in it they come to understand its transformative power.
In my 30th year as an educator, students are still returning from ISTA experiences with the same enthusiasm and advocacy I have witnessed in each of the five schools I have served.
Most recently, at the KAUST School in the spring of 2016, our student Louis Davidson attended an ISTA festival in Kuala Lumpur. He shared this: “ISTA was an amazing experience. We were able to learn a bit more about the performing arts with kids our age all around the world. I had a fantastic time, full of triumphs, new knowledge gained and joy.
“We were hosted by a family that had, beforehand, agreed to take in 2-3 students into their home. This part of the trip was another great experience, we felt at home in somebody else’s home. We were fed delicious food and had a comfy bed to sleep in. We also had the opportunity to take part in two workshops.
“The workshops were led by artists from ISTA. So many different cultures and therefore different themes incorporated into a final performance. The final performance was magical! We were first put into ensembles with ensemble leaders and then came up with ideas. We performed in different languages and different areas of the performing arts – singing, acting, dancing, movement. It was all to describe our magical experience at Batu Caves on the first day and to connect it to the theme of Rising Above.
“The final performance was so symbolic in the way everybody moved and the ideas all brought together to work in unity. Even though I was not in the audience, I could see that what we were doing was breath-taking and sensational.
“One moment, waiting in the wings of the stage, I thought back to all of the activities we had done and the experience I was taking part of. We are so lucky and so blessed to have gone on that trip, halfway across the world, to learn and work with some amazing people.”
The ISTA learning experience is formative and transformative. Long live ISTA and may it continue to flower:ISTA vivat crescat floreat.