When violence hits almost too close to home

International schools attempt to explain the unexplainable

The recent terror-related shootings in Copenhagen were unsettling and frightening for everyone. 

In the aftermath, two of city’s international schools – where students from a wide variety of backgrounds and religions attend class together, work together and form deep friendships – have not shied away from addressing the issue, and instead used it as part of their studies.

Meeting questions head on
Thomas Mulhern, the international department head at Institut Sankt Joseph, a private Catholic school located in Østerbro, said that his school thought the best approach was to discuss the violence head-on, even going as far as to visit the scene of one of the attacks.

“Students in the 5th and 6th grade bilingual classes, together with their Danish teacher Anne Marie, visited the synagogue that was the scene of the shooting,” said Mulhern. 

“They held candles, laid flowers and signed a card that was placed at the memorial.”

Mulhern said that students also spent time in class talking about what happened and the reasons behind it, exploring ways to promote tolerance instead of hatred.

Diversity and dialogue
Thomas Martin Nielsen, the director of communications and advancement at Copenhagen International School (CIS), said it was significant that his school’s community represented more than 70 different nationalities.

“This means that our students (and adults!) not only learn about the world, they learn with the world and from the world,” Nielsen stressed. 

“They all have class-mates or friends whose beliefs, colour and culture are different from their own, and they have learned to understand and respect each other as human beings.”

Nielsen said that when differences of opinion arise, they are addressed using “constructive dialogue”.

“Sometimes we simply ‘agree to disagree’ without letting that ruin our friendships because we know from personal experience that there is so much more that fundamentally unites us than the few things that may keep us apart,” he said.