David Paffenholz, former ISD student, tells the story of his remarkable educational journey from his life-changing experience at the International School of Düsseldorf, to his new academic adventure at Harvard University
In 2005, after we moved to Düsseldorf from Boston, my parents decided to send me to ISD. It wasn’t an obvious choice – I spoke fluent German and could’ve gone to a Grundschule, as both my parents did when they were children. It was a choice that set me up for an international life and gave me almost endless opportunities in my continuing education.
I spent my first years at ISD revelling in the freedom that ISD gave us, even at a young age. I compared it to my Montessori school in Boston, which was also a great school, yet constrained my ambitions by giving me set tasks with specific instructions for completion; at least to the extent that is possible for a four-year-old. In Boston, I learned to tie my shoes and count marbles. At ISD, I learned how to interact with my classmates from all over the world.
ISD’s Elementary School gave me more freedom than other comparable schools and it also gave me the opportunities to challenge myself. I enjoyed making new friends each year in class, meeting new students at the beginning of the year and visiting friends that had moved abroad. This continued throughout my time at ISD, especially the final four years.
I set myself the goal of attending Harvard University, and, with my 9th-grad ignorance, felt confident in that aspiration. Being supported by our fantastic high school counsellors, I began taking steps that seemed appropriate towards my goal – I attended three summer programs at U.S. universities during consecutive summer breaks, continued to focus on my academics, and spent vast time on my extra-curricular activities.
But those ideas aren’t exclusive to ISD. Rather, it’s our values of promoting and encouraging excellence that are unique to ISD. It’s not only our teachers and counsellors that support us, but also each other. Instead of criticising or denying success of others, we aim to recognise and value it.
At university, I am hoping to continue what ISD started to build in me. A passion for learning, discussing, and analysing the world around us. I’m excited to join a vibrant group of students who share passions both similar and different to mine and learn from their experiences and opinions.
David Paffenholz graduated from ISD in 2018 and is now on a new academic adventure, studying at Harvard University.