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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

Why Advancement Benefits from a Sprinkling of Serendipity

I used to think that serendipity was all about luck - a case of being in the right place at the right time - but I now think it's more than that.

If you don't know already, the word "serendipity" was coined by a man named Horace Walpole back in the Eighteenth Century as a way of describing his unusual ability to find what he needed, precisely when he needed it.

If you dig a little deeper into this rather quirky tale, however, it appears that the word is linked to an ancient Persian fairy tale. Entitled The Travels and Adventures of Three Princes of Sarendip, the three princes in question were the sons of Jafer, the philosopher-king of Sarendip (an ancient reference to the land of Sri Lanka), who wanted to ensure that his children broadened their education.

Illustration of The Travels and Adventures of Three Princes of Sarendip
The original tale was first published in Venice in 1557 by a printer called Michele Tramezzino.

It's one thing, said the philosopher-king, to learn from books. It's quite another to be able to experience the world and, through observation of different cultures, apply this knowledge and derive solutions to life's questions.

For Mr Walpole, I might therefore suggest, serendipity was not so much about good fortune afforded by a twist of fate, but somehow refers to the fortunate opportunity of an education that empowers the learner to observe, infer, and see things from multiple perspectives; an opportunity that means that the learner can find what they need, when they need it.

Looking back on more than a decade of Advancement at the International School of Brussels, it might be true to say that, sometimes, it was a case of right place, right time. We all need to recognise that, occasionally, the right person appears just when we need them, or we just happened to see an upturn in enrolment because of some external influencer.

More often than not, however, I believe we found what we needed, when we needed it because we were committed to the value of stepping away from our desks, experiencing the wider world of international education, and regularly taking time to observe, infer, and learn to look at things from multiple perspectives.

People might look at what we do and call us lucky.

If you dig a little deeper, however, I think there's more to it than that.


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