What does it mean to thrive?

Ignite: Switzerland is a customised 12-week immersive and transformative learning programme for our Year 9 students, which includes Rock Term, Snow Term, and Water Term, at Hochalpines Institut Ftan AG (HIF), our sister EiM school in Switzerland. The programme is being led by Caroline Taylor, the former Head of College at Dulwich College Shanghai Pudong. Caroline brings over 20 years of experience as an experienced international educator and senior leader. In this article, she delves into what it truly means for a student to ‘thrive’ and demonstrates how it is the foundational tenet of the Ignite: Switzerland curriculum.


Many parents will have seen the words "thrive" and "flourish" when researching schools and education options for their children. However, more often than not, there is little discussion about what it specifically means. So, let’s break this concept down to understand the conditions required for them, how it plays into our aspirations for our children to "Live Worldwise", and how Ignite: Switzerland has been designed to give young people the skills to thrive or flourish.

One framework for understanding what it means to thrive is the PERMA Model of Well-Being [1], developed by Dr. Seligman, a leading authority in the fields of positive psychology, resilience, and wellbeing. The framework identifies five areas—positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment—as necessary for an individual to flourish.

According to this framework, one thrives through cultivating positive emotions such as gratitude, joy, and forgiveness; engaging in tasks by fully deploying skills, strength, and attention to a challenge; nurturing relationships and connections with others; serving something bigger than oneself to derive a sense of meaning; and finally, achieving accomplishments in the form of task completion, skill competence, or mastery.

At Education in Motion (EiM), we aspire for our young people to "Live Worldwise," a term that expands on these concepts to reflect our international context. Living Worldwise means:

  • Being a citizen of the world and able to connect with other cultures and people
  • Having a deep understanding of global societal issues and a commitment to helping others through action
  • Understanding the importance of sustainability and protecting the environment
  • Having strong self-esteem and identity and understanding where you fit in your community and the larger world
  • Finding happiness, enjoyment, and harmony with themselves

We have developed the Ignite: Switzerland programme to deliver in each of these areas and ultimately help young people thrive.


Nurturing relationships and connections to be a citizen of the world

Relationships are a key facet of an individual’s ability to flourish, and as the world becomes more interconnected in every way, we know that open-mindedness, cultural awareness, and global perspectives are more important than ever. A strong study abroad experience provides "opportunities to interact with people, not just as tourists, and to experience the critical importance of building relationships with people from other countries and cultures" [2] and can "promote intense bonding that leads to lifetime friendships with fellow students and staff and amazing loyalty" [3].

At Ignite: Switzerland, students are surrounded by an international group of learners who are able to view the world and interact with each other through a different lens—understanding new perspectives, creating lifelong friendships, and enabling deeper collaboration across Dulwich campuses and beyond borders. At the same time, students visit local businesses, help and learn from local farmers, or explore the school community, thereby fostering true connections and relationships and becoming citizens of the world.


Understanding global issues, the importance of sustainability, and deriving a sense of purpose through a commitment to helping people and the planet

Finding meaning is another core aspect of thriving, with those who report having a purpose in life being healthier, having greater life satisfaction, and living longer [4]. We know that meaning can be pursued in professions, social causes, creative endeavours, and spiritual belief, as long as it is something that feels bigger than oneself. So, the Ignite: Switzerland programme has a focus on themes that situate students within their larger contexts, exploring global issues and sustainability.

The programme engages with these big ideas while encouraging participation in the wider community and developing a student’s physical, mental, social, and emotional health. Through consistent guidance, students develop independence, confidence, and a sense of responsibility and purpose that may not otherwise be achieved at home.

"Students returning from semester programmes are often refocused and energised academically, socially, and politically—they may become a school’s leading environmental activists or powerful voices on other social or cultural issues" [5].



Developing strong self-esteem and identity through engagement and accomplishment

Engagement is when someone fully deploys their skills, strengths, and attention to a challenging task. Deep engagement, sometimes referred to as "flow" (a term first coined by Csikszentmihalyi in 1989) [6], is a gratifying experience where time seems to stop. It is achieved when one’s skills are just sufficient for a challenging activity where there is a clear goal and immediate feedback on progress. People are much more likely to experience this when involved in activities of their own choosing, a concept that has been developed through different aspects of the programme.

Accomplishment or mastery similarly occurs across many areas, including academics, the creative arts, sports, games, and hobbies, but can only follow deep engagement. Both engagement and accomplishment are necessary for thriving. They allow students to develop their identities—what they care about, how they want to spend their time, the skills and knowledge they want to develop, and strong self-esteem.

Alongside a programme that offers students these opportunities for exploration, engagement, and accomplishment, Ignite: Switzerland’s outdoor learning focus allows students to challenge themselves physically and mentally, building resilience, determination, and strength of character, mind, and body.


Cultivating positive emotions and finding happiness, enjoyment, and harmony

Research shows how important the natural environment is to health. A 2020 research paper on the health benefits of exposure to woodlands in children concluded that "regular exposure to a natural environment offers children the opportunity to take appropriate risks and gain resilience, confidence, and independence as creative learners" [7].

We also know that positive emotions like interest, joy, compassion, pride, amusement, and gratitude are essential indicators of flourishing. When individuals integrate positive emotions into their daily lives, they become more resilient [8]. The natural environment and the programme we have designed for Ignite: Switzerland provide opportunities to experience and explore positive emotions in daily life, helping our students build intellectual and psychological resources that protect their wellbeing.


So what does it mean to thrive?

Thriving, unfortunately, does not come naturally, so when we talk about teaching young people to thrive, we are talking about multiple, interconnected skills on which they can draw.

We want our young people to nurture relationships, experience happiness, find purpose, engage deeply, and develop mastery. We want them to care about the world they live in and to develop the skills and knowledge to make an impact in the areas in which they are most interested. We want our young people to have strong self-awareness and identity. Ultimately, we want them to "Live Worldwise"

As a result, we developed Ignite: Switzerland. This is a programme we believe will provide incredible opportunities for learning and fun, challenge and joy, and most importantly, will give young people the skills to thrive.


(1) Seligman, M. E. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New Y0rk, NY: Atria Paperback.

(2) Wang, S., & Peyton, J. K. (2021, May 7). Study abroad for younger students: Benefits, challenges, and solutions (opinion). Education Week. Retrieved July 21, 2022, from https://www.edweek.org/leadership/opinion-study-abroad-for-younger-students-benefits-challenges-and-solutions/2015/06

(3) Gow, P. (2013). Term-Away Programs: A Sampler of Independent School Exotica. Education Week. Retrieved 2022, from https://www.edweek.org/education/opinion-term-away-programs-a-sampler-of-independent-school-exotica/2013/04

(4) Kashdan, T. B., Mishra, A., Breen, W. E., & Froh, J. J. (2009). Gender differences in gratitude: Examining appraisals, narratives, the willingness to express emotions and changes in psychological needs. Journal of Personality, 77(3), 691–730.

(5) Gow, P. (2013). Term-Away Programs: A Sampler of Independent School Exotica. Education Week. Retrieved 2022, from https://www.edweek.org/education/opinion-term-away-programs-a-sampler-of-independent-school-exotica/2013/04

(6) Csikszentmihalyi, M., & LeFevre, J. (1989) Optimal experience in work and leisure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56(5), 815–822.

(7) Finlay F, Lenton SG173(P) Health benefits of exposure to woodland and the benefits of forest schools for children and those with additional needs. Archives of Disease in Childhood 2020;105:A60-A61. https://adc.bmj.com/content/archdischild/105/Suppl_1/A60.2.full.pdf

(8) Tugade, M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). Resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional experiences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86(2), 320–333.

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