The following article comes from Anna Azarova, Communications Lead at The British International School, Ukraine.

Before this recent trip to Liverpool, the last time I visited the city was many, many years ago, and I stayed there just for a couple of days. Sometimes it happens – you visit a place, and with a lapse of time you may forget details, but you remember the atmosphere and impression it had on you. Of course, two days proved insufficient to uncover all Liverpool’s treasures, however, certain elements – the Albert Docks, the Beatles cave, and the Titanic exhibition at the Maritime Museum – were etched in my memory for ever. Above all, I always remembered the distinctive cityscape of Liverpool, which is largely a result of Georgian wealth, Victorian values and contemporary redevelopment – an unmatched blend of history and modernity.  

These nostalgic reflections served as the driving force for my return to the city. On 18 January, I found a compelling reason to do so — to embark on a journey to Liverpool to meet and engage with the fantastic partners, friends, and supporters of our schools in Ukraine: Rob Ford, CEO and Director at Heritage International School, Moldova; Sara Mallo, Spanish Teacher at Liverpool Life Sciences UTC; and the Global School Alliance representatives John Rolfe, Community & Partnerships Manager and Hannah Starkey, Senior Marketing Executive at the Global School Alliance. 

Our partnership with Life Sciences UTC commenced last year, marked by an exciting project centred around the Eurovision Song Contest 2023. Students from our schools, in the UK and Ukraine, combined their effort to create a video that celebrated the spirit of togetherness and the strength of unity. They showcased the stories of their daily lives, culminating in a musical finale. Please follow the link to learn more.  

The moment I disembarked from the train at the Liverpool Lime Street railway station, everything around felt instantly familiar. I immediately recognised the distinctive vibes and flavour of the city, promising me a wonderful adventure ahead. True to my intuition, everything turned out to be even more exciting. 

Upon our arrival on site, we were greeted with an immensely warm welcome, and Sara Mallo graciously led us on a guided tour of the Liverpool Life Sciences UTC — a true gem housed within a magnificent and historically rich building. Here are some captivating facts: the edifice dates back to the 19th century, originally serving as a warehouse for various goods including oils, grain, cotton, tobacco, and sugar.

In 2008, it underwent a remarkable transformation, evolving into the Contemporary Urban Centre, designed to foster arts, culture, and social enterprise within the local community. Subsequently, in 2013, Liverpool Life Sciences UTC secured this remarkable space for its operations. 

We were struck by the architectural design — the school proudly maintains its industrial Victorian-era style, while boasting state-of-the-art equipment that would impress scientists and technologists worldwide. 

Life Sciences UTC delivers ground-breaking industry education to 14-19-year-olds as it focuses on sciences, health care and engineering. The expansive place is equipped with all sorts of cutting-edge facilities, like laboratories for scientific research and experiments, digital gaming classes, a 120-seat cinema, a versatile dance or activity hall, and dedicated arts spaces. A noteworthy feature is the exceptional robotics section, offering hands-on simulation for healthcare training.

We enjoyed an enlightening talk with the students who took part in the Eurovision initiative, some of them performed a Ukrainian folk song as part of the project. We talked about their aspirations for future careers. 

Rob Ford and I spontaneously engaged in an inspiring conversation with another group of pupils during their geography lesson. Rob showcased Moldova on the map, introduced his school, and briefly acquainted the children with the country. With reference to BISU, one student asked me a thought-provoking question: “Why should your schools in Ukraine be open amidst all these extraordinary challenges?” I responded by stating that as educators, our mission goes beyond challenges. We are committed to supporting the children in Ukraine, nurturing their growth, and contributing to the development of the next generation by ensuring access to quality education. One of our international teachers, who chose to stay in Ukraine, expressed a heart-touching perspective, saying, “If little children in Kyiv can go to school every day, so can I.” 

Maintaining connections with international schools worldwide is essential for our students in Ukraine, particularly during these challenging times. It not only fosters a sense of belonging to the global community but also empowers them to create a meaningful impact. We extend our gratitude to the Global School Alliance for their vital role in uniting educators and schools all over the world. As a proud member of the GSA, BISU has actively engaged in several significant projects. For example, our students recently participated in the COP 28 challenge, demonstrating their commitment to tackling critical issues afflicting our planet. 

Additionally, we orchestrated a series of online interactive talks between our students and their counterparts from international schools, including Little Heath School, a special school in London. Our conversations delved into diverse topics, covering daily schedules, favourite subjects, hobbies, aspirations, winter holiday traditions, books, films, and even weather. 

These collaborations with schools across the globe significantly enhance students’ soft skills and virtues, indispensable for their independent adult lives, such as cultural tolerance, presentation skills, critical thinking, open-mindedness, creativity, and problem-solving. Serving as a dynamic bridge between diverse communities, these partnerships break down barriers and promote mutual support and a sense of shared humanity. 

Online cooperation with our partners and friends is hugely valuable; however, the incomparable joy of meeting them in person, shaking hands, sharing energy and smiles, and celebrating achievements cannot be overstated. It was an exceptionally special and unforgettable day, filled with pleasant surprises and discoveries. Moreover, there was an additional cause for celebration — this year marks two milestone anniversaries for BISU’s partners, the 5th anniversary of the Global School Alliance and the 10th anniversary of Liverpool Life Sciences UTC. 

Rob Ford, CEO and Director at Heritage International School, Moldova, shares his impression: “Meeting up in Liverpool, on a cold but sunny day in January, was the perfect place to be and a perfect occasion in that global historic city and window on the World. Liverpool united Europe around song and music in 2023, to support the people of Ukraine in an amazing Eurovision and one of the many brilliant strands to this international unity was the work between schools in the city and Ukraine. The unique partnership between BISU, LLS and GSA is very much about hope for the future, around young people and the power of education to illuminate these dark times. Standing in a city I have a strong attachment to from my wife’s family, and bringing the connection from Ukraine’s neighbour, Moldova, and Heritage International School, a COBIS, Black Sea Schools partner with BISU, made this a very unique day in international education and one I will not forget.  It has also confirmed the commitment of future work and to continue to create innovative global learning opportunities for our students in the UK, Ukraine and Moldova”.

Sara Mallo, Spanish Teacher at Liverpool Life Sciences UTC, says: “We were proud and privileged to receive our wonderful guests from Ukraine and Moldova. We hear on the news many stories about Ukraine and its conflict, and luckily we have now had the chance to interact with real people with real experiences of it. Working with Ukrainians on the Eurovision Song project was immensely enjoyable and rewarding, because it gave us a chance to work together, cooperate and form bonds with the Ukrainians on a personal level. This reflects the strength of the collaboration between our city and Ukraine, which is going through such difficulties. Such collaboration was possible thanks to the amazing work carried out by Global Schools Alliance building international bridges between school communities miles apart but very close to our heart .Our students had a unique chance to hear first-hand about the schools in Ukraine which are continuing to operate, and the admirable work that they are doing despite their hardships. In addition, to discover Moldova and about some of its characteristics, eloquently expressed. Above all, it helps to inform our worldwide geographical outlook when talking to people who are actually from these places; our classrooms are enhanced when enlightened by people’s lived experiences. Thank you for coming and sharing your experiences and culture with us!”

John Rolfe, Community & Partnerships Manager at the Global School Alliance: “All of us at the Global School Alliance are proud and delighted to work with inspiration global educators – the most important people in the world! We pay huge tribute to the fantastic global work from our Global School Ambassador, Anna Azarova, and all at the great British International School Ukraine; your commitment to bring the world into your classrooms every day, even in the most challenging of circumstances, is always profoundly inspiring. As we celebrate our own fifth birthday, we continue to reflect on, and share, the brilliant impactful work undertaken by schools across the globe and thank you to you all, and a very special thanks to you Anna; it’s always a great privilege to work with you and to learn from you and our thoughts and best wishes to you and all your colleagues and students.”

As I departed from Liverpool, I was certain it wasn’t the end; rather, it marked the beginning of a new chapter! I am confident that numerous thrilling joint initiatives await us in the future.

Some cities have an irresistible allure that beckons you to return, and Liverpool is undoubtedly one of them. And I know why.