Head's Letter - February 2018

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Just last week, I was speaking with two leadership students about how challenging the month of February can be. The days are still short, the weather is often cold, and the start of a second semester is now squarely behind us. And lately, I find myself trying to digest the news that comes streaming on my iPod, phone, and laptop, and wondering: how do we stay positive, and forward-thinking, in light of recent events? My remarks at assembly focused on being the antidote by focusing on putting good energy into the universe, and remembering that we are so fortunate to be in a community that values and appreciates difference, and works to understand one another at a deeper level.

On Thursday, February 15th, our students, staff, and faculty gathered to kick off a weekend-long celebration of the Lunar New Year. Students from China, Taiwan, and Korea shared stories, games, and traditions of how each of their cultures celebrates this special time. The festivities continued on Saturday and Sunday with special meals and activities on and off campus, and throughout the weekend I was reminded how lucky we are to enjoy a community that welcomes people from all around the world, sharing traditions together and learning from one another.

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February is also a time when we take time to recognize Black History Month with special assemblies and weekly tidbits designed to encourage conversation and questions about the world as it was, and as it can be. On the lighter side, we also celebrate Valentine's Day - ask your student about the original singing and dancing Valentines many of them sent to friends and faculty. It’s also a time when a new semester provides an opportunity for students and faculty to reset. I was recently invited to chaperone an excursion with our art history class, taught by Jennifer TumSuden, to the Harvard Art Museums. I spent the day with students from all majors, exploring the galleries, and completing a scavenger hunt designed to help them become familiar with a variety of styles and periods the class would be studying this semester.

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As we head into March, I look forward to my annual Asia trip. Each year, I am fortunate to travel to a variety of cities throughout Asia to visit with current students and their families, alumni, and prospective families. In the eight years I have visited, I have come to make many new friends and establish meaningful relationships with a diverse group of people who make up the extended Walnut Hill community.

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Our school is fortunate to attract students and alumni from every part of the world and our annual trip to Asia serves as an opportunity for me to foster and nurture those relationships. This year, Jim Woodside, Director of Artistic Studies and head of Visual Art, and Lela Paultre, Assistant Director of Admission and Financial Aid, will join me again as we visit six cities in two weeks including Taipei, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Singapore. In that spirit of global community, as we celebrated the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, I wanted to also share a post and some photos from my many visits to Seoul.

I wanted to take a moment to wish a very happy new year to all of our families who celebrated the Lunar New Year. As March approaches I know you will be thinking of spring break, and I hope that the time with your young artists is a relaxing and enjoyable one. I also look forward to seeing many of you when you return on March 26th for second semester Parent-Teacher conferences.

Most Sincerely,
Antonio Viva
Head of School

Travel Notebook : My Favorite Places in Seoul

It’s time for the Olympics and if you find yourself in South Korea taking in the games, I thought I would share a list list of experiences I think you would enjoy, even if you only have  a few hours in Seoul. 

1. Insadong - It’s one of the best art streets in Asia. Similar to M50 in Shanghai it features galleries, shops, tea, street artists and food. The design aesthetic in South Korea makes use of earthy tones combined with vibrant pops of color.  There are plenty of galleries with superb art and many willl often have acesss to the artists themselves. While you are there be sure to give yourself at least 2 hours to really enjoy the entire experience. There are art supply shops with dyed paper and ink brushes. Grab some lunch and ginger tea afterwards.  

2. Buddhist Temples - Seoul has some inspiring Buddhist temples, one of the most interesting and inspiring is Bongeunsa Temple which is located in the Gangnam district of the city. It’s tucked away off a major street and can be an oasis from the noise and traffic of the metropolitan area. I have had the privelage of meditating at several temples in Seoul and each is unique and can serve as a deeply meaningful experience. Give yourself permission to spend ample time in these sacred spaces. They will feed your soul.

3. Somebody Feed AV - Korean food is made from the heart and is meant to be enjoyed in groups, large and small. Sometimes, the best meal can cost you less than $10,000 KWN and you and a friend can eat on the run. Then there are times when you want to sit down and enjoy a full meal, barbecue or a traditional full course meal. That can mean up to 30 dishes.  Either way, eat your way through the city.  

4. Itaewon Street Market - Go for the antiques. Yes, the antique and vintage shops located in this neighbors are flanked with interesting and shops selling everything from custom tailored shirts and pants to trinkets and gag gifts. Itaewon, has tons of shopping and places to eat, you can easily spend a few hours there. The real reason to visit is so you make your way up to the Itaewon Furniture Street. I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed. It was formed in the 1960’s when North American soldiers who were stationed in Yongsan needed to get rid of personal belongings. These expatriates would sell their furniture to the shop owners in the area before returning home. Now the shop owners have everything from small household items to large furniture and fixtures. You can get lost in these shops and they are vintage gold. 

5. Hunt for Vinyl - Seoul has some of the best record shops in the world. I have looked for and purchased records in cities like Seattle, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Reykjavik and London. Seoul’s record shops are some of the best in the world and there is an underground collection of shops that has some of the largest and most diverse collection of music on vinyl you will find anywhere. The Hoehyeon Underground Shopping Arcade is where you need to go. Just copy and paste that into Google Maps and take a cab there. Talk to the shop owners and venture out of your comfort zone. You could come home with some great music from the 1960’s that you might have never heard of like Shin Jung-hyeon who was an epic South Korean singer-songwriter and rock guitarist. His nickname is Korea’s “Godfather of Rock.”

 

Bonus - I posted an article about visiting Bukchon Village back in 2015. Check it out, that would be my number six.