David J. Condon appears relaxed and thoughtful when we meet in his office at the ISL in Luxembourg-Hollerich. As you would expect of the director of a renowned international school, he is dressed in crisp suit and tie. He jokes that the clothes are the only thing that has made it to Luxembourg, “My shipment hasn’t yet arrived!”
The American national and his artist wife, Catherine Ventura, are now old hands at international travel--the ISL is his seventh international school, though only his second in Europe. “Over half of my adult life was spent in Asia,” he says.
Raised in Wisconsin, USA, by a teacher mother and lawyer father, Condon wasn’t sure what he wanted to do after high school until he took a life-changing trip to Alaska with his mentor. There he helped to establish a homestead on a 160-acre plot, built a cabin, shot moose and lived off the land. “That trip convinced me that I really valued education, particularly experiential education. I think I probably learned more in the four weeks it took to drive up there in the middle of winter than I had in my previous three years in high school. Just the power of experience,” he recalls.
I’m a big fan of the IB, not just as an educator but also as a parent. I believe it prepares kids to be global citizens and to be internationally minded
During the long Alaskan winters, Condon started a degree in English literature, “Because during Alaskan winters you need something to do.” He later transferred and graduated from the University of Minnesota but not before a spell in Hong Kong studying Chinese philosophy. “That’s where I met my wife. She’s an American and the joke in my family is I had to go to Hong Kong to find the girl next door”, he smiles. The two had their first child, a daughter, in Taiwan, and then twins back in the US where Condon taught at a high school in Florida and completed his masters in English education at the University of South Florida.
A global family
Ten years on and the family was on the move again. Condon’s first foreign teaching post was at an international American school in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. From there they went to Taiwan, where his children finished their education at the Taipei American School. The director describes it as “a very academically rigorous school”, which has set his kids up well for life.
Condon is clearly proud of his now grown-up children--a writer, a teacher and lawyer--and credits their academic skills to the IB programme they followed. “That’s something I share with parents. I’m a big fan of the IB, not just as an educator but also as a parent. I believe it prepares kids to be global citizens and to be internationally minded,” he says.
Condon’s career has since taken him and his wife to international schools in Japan and Hawaii. Both experiences form the case studies for his PhD, examining the international-mindedness in two IB contexts. “I’m glad it’s done,” he says of the thesis, for which he took a two-year sabbatical in the US to complete. Since the sabbatical directly preceded the start of the ISL job, Condon was able to “side-step covid”, or the worst of it, anyway. “I hoped we would start this school year, and everything would be under control. Not quite.”
“There is good government guidance”
The director, though, is optimistic of the way that Luxembourg has handled the pandemic. He says: “people are rational and there is good government guidance”. The sabbatical gave him and his wife the luxury of being in the US for the birth of his first grandson, Charlie who, he says “it was difficult to leave” behind.
After living on so many islands, a landlocked country like Luxembourg seems a strange choice. “I never thought about that,” says Condon. He says he was drawn to the ISL’s global reputation and the culture of Luxembourg, which he hopes to get to know better in the coming year. He also appreciated the central location of the grand duchy. “I think Luxembourg is wonderfully situated for someone like me who likes to travel and experience other cultures,” he says.
And, if he does begin to feel homesick for his native state of Wisconsin, he can just take a trip to Belgium, whose landscape he says reminds him of home, excluding Lake Michigan, of course. And the Luxembourg culture may not be so foreign to what he experienced growing up. Large parts of the state were “settled by a lot of Belgian, German and Luxembourg immigrants.” Anyone who has watched the documentary “Luxemburg-USA” will know that there are today a small number of Americans there who still speak Luxembourgish.
Condon, who replaces ISL veteran Nikki Crush, takes up the reins of the school at a time when the Luxembourg education ministry is expected to launch two new international schools with English-language streams. The director doesn’t seem rattled by the potential competition. “We will have an ongoing discussion about what makes us unique, what do we do better than anyone else and what do we want to do better than anyone else,” he says. For him, the school’s strengths lie in its promotion of intercultural understanding and global engagement. He also recalls that the ISL was the founder of the Global Issues Network, empowering young people to find sustainable solutions to the world’s most-pressing problems. “I think we have some real opportunities to explore intercultural understanding,” he says, adding: “We’ve over 50 nationalities here. And among the staff, in my experience, it [the ISL] has the most diverse faculty of staff I’ve seen,” he says.
We end the interview talking about hobbies and it is here that the director shows a very clear-headed and philosophical side to his personality. He has been keeping a journal since he moved to Alaska, at the age of 17. A former competitive swimmer and swim coach, today he says he practices swimming as “a form of meditation”. He is a “big reader” and then there is his love of cycling, both road cycling and mountain biking. “Really looking forward to getting out on the bike once my shipment arrives,” he says.