A school sanctuary in South Bohemia celebrates 30 years in Czechia

Townshend International School, near České Budějovice, has transformed the educational experience into one of self-reflection and service to others.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 20.06.2022 22:57:00 (updated on 20.06.2022) Reading time: 5 minutes

In the hills of South Bohemia, not far from Hluboká nad Vltavou castle, lies a school with a mission that’s become increasingly urgent in our hyperconnected modern world: to develop students who are aware of their capacity to shape a better future for society.

For thirty years, Townshend International School, a residential and day school located near the city of České Budějovice, has espoused the tenets of the Baha'i faith to transform the educational experience into one of self-reflection and service to others.

The school was founded in 1992 by an expat couple who sought to create an enriching educational experience for their daughter. While the Baha'i faith is at the heart of the school’s philosophy, the Townshend International School isn’t associated with any particular religion, but incorporates its universal acceptance of all beliefs as an important hallmark of personal and educational development.

Eliot Farmer and Jordan Williams, who work in the school’s development office, explain how that plays into the school’s curriculum and approach to learning.

“The idea was to look beyond academics and to nurture the characteristics of each student; to help them grow in all dimensions so that they not only leave with intelligence but with the desire to have a positive impact on the world,” says Eliot.

An important part of Townshend students’ educational journey is creating the space to explore spiritual ideas. Inspiration for evening prayer and daily meditation comes from all of the world's major religions, from Judaism to Christianity and Islam, as well as more secular sources.

According to Jordan, himself a former student, incorporating reflections from different faiths and philosophies helps to cultivate and nurture the spirit of togetherness that is an important part of the school’s culture.

“Our school enrichment program includes community service, such as giving English lessons at local schools, supporting refugees, and beautifying the local area,” says Jordan.

The school’s impressive graduates are proof that it strives to nurture social activism.

Thomas Bodin who graduated in 2012 co-founded an NGO, Human Conet, devoted to the indigenous Sikuanis people of Colombia. Following her graduation in 2008, Magdalena (Lenka) Karvayova worked passionately to promote education and justice for Roma citizens and founded the NGO Awen Amenca. She recently received the 15th annual Alice G. Masaryk Human Rights Award – an award that celebrates the advancement of human rights within the Czech Republic. 

While academic excellence is expected of Townshend students (it is a Cambridge International School with a K-Secondary program), the means for acquiring knowledge can take on many forms.

“We support students in getting the best results they have the capacity for. For example, a student who enrolls with us may have been struggling with foreign languages in their previous school. For this, we have a lot of learning support in place – but it’s also critical we help students develop initiative and self-motivation,” says Eliot.

He adds that project-based learning is key for Townshend students, whether it's understanding physics by dropping homemade parachutes off a balcony or exploring concepts of mental health through film projects. The school’s weekly enrichment program builds on this by teaching life skills such as healthy living and financial literacy.

Jordan explains that the student body is comprised of Czechs and international students, who have represented more than 105 countries since the school's establishment. Some join seeking better opportunities to learn English or in preparation for going overseas. Other students have been unhappy with traditional educational systems, sought smaller class sizes, or simply didn’t experience a healthy peer environment in their previous school.

Many students are children of expats living in the Czech Republic, hailing from countries as diverse as Brazil, South Korea, India, and the U.S. Just a two-hour drive from Prague, the school is an appealing option for families who are considering relocating to less-populated České Budějovice, a growing university town with an increasingly international community. Children of employees of the nearby Bosch factory also make up part of the student body.

And while many students commute from within a 20-30 km radius, the residential program gives students the unique opportunity to belong to and contribute to a close community.

"I really liked the environment, and the warm and welcoming atmosphere. I like Townshend for its people, the diversity and the positivity people always carry around."

-Zimeng (Elizabeth) from China, Townshend graduate of 2021.

“It's more than just a place for students to stay after school, and the staff we hire shares that sentiment,” says Eliot. Dedicated dorm parents look after students to ensure their emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being, while older students learn important leadership skills by helping out with their younger peers.

The school’s location is one of the most important factors in the overall education of a Townshend student.

“When a visitor spends a day or so on campus they quickly gain an appreciation for our close community and unique environment, and enjoy this beautiful safe space, overlooking lakes, rivers, and castles, removed from the city and the distractions of modern life,” says Jordan.

Those distractions include technology. Jordan recalls that prior to working at the school he’d been coming back to visit over the years.

“Over time, I noticed this change in attitude with the advent of social media, and it was quite sad to see people becoming less social,” he says.

In 2018 the school implemented a no-phones policy. “There are no phones during school hours, and students are encouraged to be with each other,” says Jordan, who adds that once the policy went into place, students stopped caring about their phones as much.

The policy also presents teachable moments on how to live healthily alongside technology and social media, and encourages students to question how these tools can impact us.

“What it boils down to for us is focusing on a higher nature. We want to help students understand that their personal value is based on more than just academic success. Character is very important,” says Jordan.

It’s hoped the students will take that moral foundation out into the world.

As the 30th anniversary approaches, students past and present will descend upon the campus this summer to reminisce about how the experience of attending Townshend has changed their lives.

But many students return to visit, even outside of special occasions, says Eliot. “They have a strong connection and affinity for the school and their teachers; a strong sense of home and belonging.” The students’ desire to reconnect with their fairytale alma mater illustrates the way in which education at Townshend builds lasting relationships and strong character.

Townshend International School has rolling applications throughout the year, and visitors wishing to experience the unique environment are encouraged to get in touch to arrange a tour or call.

This article was written in association with Townshend International School. Read more about our partner content policies here.

Would you like us to write about your business? Find out more