Just wondering about the concept of citizenship in our world of international education

We just had Juramento a la bandera, our annual ceremony where students of our Senior class pledge allegiance or pay respect to the Ecuadorian flag. This is a major event for Ecuador, for our school, for our Seniors and their families. It has the formality and flavour of graduation. To prepare for my speech for this ceremony, I watched again writer Taiye Selasi’s TED talk. Her words resonate so much with our lives of international educators and they got me thinking.

In my 17 years as an international educator, I have learned a lot about citizenship. In the United Kingdom, the first country where I lived and worked, I quickly found out that people are very proud of their flag. They often wear the jersey of the national sport teams, flags are hanging from different buildings and houses in town and so forth. The concept of citizenship was fascinating. A country that was not mine gave me a free education, my first job, a social security number and I could have applied for a UK passport while I was there. What an open way to look at citizenship! Mind you, this might all evolve with Brexit, but it is a different story. But it goes beyond a passport as I felt more at home in London, Brighton or Lancaster than in Paris or Bordeaux. In Turkey, the second country where we lived and worked, we got to a different level. In public schools, there is a flag raising ceremony every Monday and İstiklal Marşı, the national anthem, is often played during school events. Typically there is also a framed version of the national anthem framed and displayed in classroom walls.. Our son, Dorian, was born in Istanbul but he was not granted the Turkish nationality as my wife and I are not Turks. Fine, Dorian was not going to be Turk, but he was born there, Turkish was his first language (with French), his friends in preschool were Turks and in our neighbourhood everyone knew Dorian as the blond kid with blue eyes and fluent Turkish speaker. We felt at home in many parts of Istanbul and Turkey and we feel like foreigners in Toulouse or Montpellier. In France, my native country, the flag tends to be associated with certain political parties and the blue, white and red colours are not easily found except on official buildings. With a second star on the jersey of our national football team, maybe more people will wear the French colours. The French national anthem is quite often criticised for being a violent war song-some people even say it is racist and some politicians have event refused to sing it. And foreigners can apply for the French citizenship after passing a test on questions that I might not be able to answer. 

As international educators, we all carry and can share our concepts on citizenship. On Thursday, we were proud to celebrate an important ceremony for Ecuadorians and non-Ecuadorians students in their Senior year. Ecuador is a very welcoming country and we all know of non-Ecuadorian families who had children, here in Quito, who received an Ecuadorian ID and as a consequence parents could also receive it. My family has spent more time and feels more comfortable in the Cotopaxi National park or in the Quilotoa area than in the French Alps. On Thursday, our beautiful and diverse class of 2020, with Ecuadorians and non-Ecuadorians, with a Canadian Director, a Principal from Euskadi, (Basque country) an Associate Principal from Minnesota and a faculty that comes from several parts of the world, this class of 2020 swore allegiance  or paid respect to the Ecuadorian flag.

The writer Taiye Selasi raised this important question and shared it with us: « have you ever been asked the question “where are you from?” and you were not sure what to say?» In our globalised world, with vibrant and mobile communities, Academia Cotopaxi being a microcosm of this world,  the concept of citizenship may be very complex. But we need roots and this is why I am particularly honoured to have taken part in this ceremony that formally roots students’ entire lives, or part of them, in this beautiful country that is Ecuador.

For what it’s worth…

About Fred Bordaguibel-Labayle

Frederic Bordaguibel-Labayle is the High School Principal at Academia Cotopaxi American International School in Quito, Ecuador. Fred was born and raised in the southwest of France; he finished his studies and started teaching in the UK, then went on to Istanbul and he is currently in Quito. Fred likes to pause, reflect, and share his experience as an international educator and administrator.
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