Nord Anglia Education
Nord Anglia
January 15, 2021

BISW Alumni Speaks: Claudia Churchill

BISW Alumni Speaks: Claudia Churchill - bisw-alumni-speaks-claudia-churchill
BISW Alumni Speaks: Claudia Churchill Alumna Claudia Churchill remembers her favourite times at BISW and describes her exciting time in higher education.

How many years did you attend at in BIS Washington?

I attended BISW for five years, from Year 9 through Year 13.


What is your best memory from your time at school?

I loved being the Chesapeake team Captain. It was fun to encourage younger students on Sports Day and plan the props and dances for House Sing. Being House Captain was a significant part of my BISW experience, and I loved getting to know many other students because of it.


What were some co-curriculars that you focused on while a student?

I was involved in the school musical every single year. Early on, I had small speaking or singing roles, and later, I helped with props and set design. In Year 12, I helped tutor Year 4 in maths as part of CAS for IB. In Year 13, I went into school early to assist in the English as an Additional Language Program. I completed my Bronze and Silver Duke of Edinburgh Award (DofE). I am beyond thankful that this opportunity was available at BISW, as I did not want to miss out on DofE by not attending Secondary School in the U.K. In Year 12, I ran an after-school sports club for Nursery as part of the service for the DofE award. I played basketball, football and netball in Years 10 and 11. The small student population meant I could always be a part of the girls’ sports teams, which I loved. I was also a member of the Geography club.


How did those experiences contribute to your engagement while at university?

I realized that being involved at BISW contributed to my happiness, so at university, I was very involved. It helped me meet people. It was a big change to go from 28 students to 5,000 students. Also, after attending the BISW ski trip, I realized how much I loved to go to new places and try new things, so I studied abroad in Ghana and South Africa during my time at university.


How did the IBDP prepare you for university?

At university, writing was an area that I excelled in compared to my classmates. I was a strong writer because of the IB.


How was the transition to university?

I found it difficult at first. It is a huge adjustment. I struggled with being away from my family, but after 2 weeks, I was settled. Every aspect of your life is new and different at university, and at first, I found that daunting, but it became my favourite part. There are many new people to meet, and your time, for the first time perhaps, is truly your own.


Before COVID-19, what was your typical day like on campus?

I usually had one or two classes every day. I am a morning person, so I would always choose early classes if I could. After class, I would meet a friend for coffee or lunch. JMU had exceptional food, so grabbing lunch with friends was a fun part of my day. I would then probably head to work or go to the library to study. I worked in the Admissions Office where I helped coordinate campus tours and welcome families and visitors to the university. In the evening, at least twice a week, I would attend a meeting for an organization I was in. I would then head home, make dinner at my apartment and hang out with my roommates. I would also go to the gym at least twice a week, whenever I had free time.


What is the best aspect of your university course?

I completed a B.S. in Geographic Science, and I minored in Humanitarian Affairs and Environmental Humanities. I loved the diversity of geography classes available to me. The IB geography inspired me to learn more about environmental conservation, sustainability, and development, and the classes at JMU allowed me to dive deeper into these topics. Some of my favourite classes were Gendered Geographies, Climatology, Environmental Governance and History and Philosophy of Geography.


Is there a specific type of student that would enjoy your university?

No, not really. I found that JMU was inclusive and diverse, and even as an International Student, I found my place. However, JMU is a big university. I wanted a big university because BISW was small, but that isn’t the case for everyone. During your university search, look at the size of your school and your program, as too big could be overwhelming for some people.


Where is your favourite place to hang out on/near campus?

Harrisonburg, the town where JMU is located, is one of the largest refugee hubs in Virginia. Therefore, there were a lot of international cuisines. One of my favourite things to do was meet friends for dinner and get authentic Mexican, Asian or Thai food.


What advice would you give your Year 11 self? What advice would you give your Year 13 self?

To my Year 11 self, I would say, “Enjoy the IB. It is such a unique and special time.” I most definitely spent a lot of IB stressed about the future and not enjoying myself in the moment. To my Year 13 self, I would say, “Breathe. Don’t worry. Everything will work out for you. You have the most exciting chapter ahead. There will be challenges but you are going to be so happy and have so much fun!”


Following graduation from James Madison University in 2019, I interned at the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) in DC as part of the Development team. I then went on to work at the National Democratic Institute in DC for the spring and summer. The internship ‘changed things’ for me, sparking my passion for human rights and resulted in my application to the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies where I am studying to acquire my M.A. in International Human Rights.


CIVIC’s mission is ‘to work with armed actors and civilians in conflict to develop and implement solutions to prevent, mitigate and respond to civilian harm’. At CIVIC my day to day focused on Development work, but due to CIVIC’s small size, I was able to sit in on many meetings and conferences with the field teams to learn about their UN Peacekeeping program. One of the main goals was to bridge the gap between civilians and peacekeepers to minimize civilian harm. There was a lot of work aiming to ensure PoC (protection of civilians) was clearly outlined in every mandate, and that Peacekeepers/U.S. should not only implement International Humanitarian Law but go above and beyond to ensure the ultimate level of protection for civilians. I found this work so fascinating that I may make civil-military relations the specialization for my human rights program.


Even though I worked in the Human Resource Department at the National Democratic Institute, seeing how a flourishing and profound DC/International non-profit functioned was invaluable.


One of my many goals is to marry my geography undergrad degree with my human rights M.A. In my current program, I am focusing/interested in the context of Africa, civilian protection in conflict, climate change and humanitarian assistance.