Haileybury Astana, the school I work at, has links to the prestigious Haileybury school in England. As such, the former was successful in its bid to join COBIS – the Council of British International Schools – shortly after opening last year. COBIS host many events, conferences and competitions for staff and children, but there was one that we were particularly looking forward to.
We were privileged enough to have been invited to take part in the inaugural COBIS Games. Devised by the British School in Prague, this was a sports competition taking in three disciplines – swimming, athletics and football. Twelve schools made their way to the capital of the Czech Republic, which has a special place in my heart as I did my TEFL course here in 2008, to compete for honour. Not to mention four huge trophies.
Most of the schools were from Europe, so had a short, hassle-free flight to Prague. Living in a relatively remote outpost, we had a laborious trip to get to the host city, involving two flights on Aerosvit (I can’t recommend an airline that gives you only one hot meal over the course of four flights) and a five hour wait in Kyiv. Luckily, our children were in good spirits, thanks in no part to their excitement at going on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Or due to playing on their iPads…
Prague didn’t take long to remind me of how beautiful it is, and how different cities are in Europe from the wacky designs of Astana. From lush green fields to quaint, quiet cobbled streets, this modest city immediately highlighted its vast charm. We spent a morning walking around the city to show the children the main sights, including the astronomical clock and Charles Bridge, before taking a boat ride down the Vltava River.
There are many enticing activities in Prague. One of them was unfortunately off-limits for us – at least until the children had been tucked away into bed. The Czech Republic has copious amounts of cheap, high quality piva, which we managed to sample each night due to the inexplicable number of pubs even near our hotel on the outskirts of the city. How they stay in business is beyond me, but we tried to help them by sampling the local beer. We normally needed one each evening after trying to tend to 13 children – not to mention quite a few parents who had decided to come with us – throughout each day.
Though I had been here before, there were some things we did on this trip that I hadn’t done on my two previous visits. One was a bizarre, funny ghost tour around the streets of Old Town. Some of it was very interesting – for example, the two cows below are made of stone but when a picture is taken of them they appear golden in the subsequent photo. The children couldn’t stop laughing, which was exacerbated when one of them unfortunately stepped in the faeces of one of the horses that take couples on romantic adventures around the city.
I also added another job to my CV by becoming a tour guide for our group around Prague Castle, as we had arrived too late to get on a proper tour. Leaving out most of the architectural information in favour of telling them about Nazis seemed to go down well. Future job, perhaps! We also popped up to Prague Zoo, which was a whirlwind and very enjoyable experience. The giraffes were particularly impressive.
However, we were not here for a holiday, in spite of what the parents may have thought. We were here to compete. Day one was swimming in an incredible and large arena. It was particularly large for our children, many of whom had never seen let alone swum in a 50m pool. They tried hard and improved on most of their times, but were never in contention for medals when pitted against some specialist swimming schools. One 11-year-old girl from the Abu Dhabi school swam 50m freestyle in 37 seconds – a time that achieves an A*. At IGCSE. It also is probably quicker than I could swim it.
After we had cured the despondency of the children with some retail therapy they were back in high spirits for the second day of competition – athletics. This was the day that piqued my interest, as I had been coaching athletics for the last 4 months. Once again we were up against some phenomenal opposition, but we improved significantly. Almost every child smashed their PB, and a few children came close to reaching running finals. This was also the day when our mantra for the whole tour – ‘be the best you can be’ – was finally understood and appreciated by the children, who subsequently enjoyed themselves a lot more.
What also improved their attitude was the fact that we actually won an event – the short javelin. Our boy Iliyas threw a monstrous 23.6 metres, which handsomely won the competition.
The final day was football. I had warned the children to lower their expectations – words which turned out to be prophetic as we lost each game without scoring a goal. The other Haileybury school from Almaty suffered a similar fate. Football is played with a better structure and is just more natural for children from Europe to get involved in. Two of the boys from the Prague school are on the books of Sparta Prague, which again showed the quality of the opposition.
Ultimately, it was a fantastic learning experience for all of us. It has shown the children that they can improve and hopefully will give them the incentive to do so. Of the objectives we set, we didn’t come last and the children all improved their times or scores in at least one discipline. We finished the place below Almaty, but didn’t disgrace ourselves, and even won a gold medal.
We also had great fun in the great city of Prague. Next year’s COBIS Games, which were superbly organised and run by the Prague British School, will be in the Netherlands. We have been invited back, and now know what we have to do to achieve greater results next year. I’m sure we can find some fun in the Dutch sun whilst we are there!
Love you all