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From ISD to Ivy League

From ISD to Ivy League

“[Sending me to ISD] was a choice that set me up for an international life and…gave me almost endless opportunities.”

David Paffenholz graduated from ISD in 2018 and has embarked on a new academic adventure, studying at Harvard University. Here he talks about the challenges he set himself and the values instilled in him during his time at ISD.

Back in 2005, after we moved to Düsseldorf from Boston, my parents decided to send me to ISD. It wasn’t an obvious choice – after all, I spoke fluent German and could’ve gone to a Grundschule, as both my parents did when they were children. But it was a choice that set me up for an international life and, although I didn’t realise it at the time, 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 remember comparing it to my Montessori school in Boston, which was undoubtedly also a great school, yet already 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.

While ISD’s Elementary School gave me a lot more freedom than other comparable schools, it also gave me the opportunities to challenge myself. I enjoyed making new friends each year in new classes, meeting new students at the beginning of the year and visiting friends that had moved abroad. This continued throughout my time at ISD and culminated in the final four years.

I set myself the goal of attending Harvard University, and, with my 9th-grad ignorance, felt unshakeably confident in that high aspiration. Being supported by our fantastic high school counsellors, I began taking steps that seemed appropriate towards reaching 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 to find 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 contrastingly different to mine and learn from their experiences and opinions.