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My ESU exchange encouraged me to seize opportunities

Mark Mortimer

Headmaster, Warminster School

Hear my story
A picture of Mark Mortimer as a teenager in American Football kit with heap of bush in the background.
Mark Mortimer as a teenager in American Football kit

A positive outlook

‘When faced with a difficult opportunity or challenge, I think too often people look for the reasons why they can’t do it when they should look for the reasons they can,’ says Mark Mortimer, Headmaster of Warminster School. It’s not something that can be said of Mark, however, who, as well as serving for eight years in the Light Infantry, has twice rowed across the Atlantic – once as a pair and once alone.

Mark traces his enthusiasm for challenge and adventure back to the English-Speaking Union, and the chance he had to spend a year in America on a Secondary School Exchange. ‘I went from Mill Hill School in North London to Saint James School in Maryland,’ he says. ‘The headmaster came to collect me at the airport and we drove out to what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. I remember very clearly the heat, and these enormous insects which seemed to be hurling themselves into the fly screen on my window. It was all a bit of a shock to the system.’ Luckily for Mark he’d arrived in the middle of pre-season training for soccer and American football, and so was thrown straight into school life. ‘It was fantastically worthwhile,’ says Mark, ‘and it encouraged me to seize opportunities that came my way.’

The biggest advantage of travelling abroad is the people. Yes, there are sights to be seen but actually what you remember is a shared experience or meeting new people.

Mark was well aware though that the people he met at Saint James were from a particular sector of society. ‘It was a fairly privileged and elite boarding school with a lot of wealthy pupils,’ he says, ‘but the exchange broadened my horizons and encouraged me to want to learn more.’ Two years later, once at university, he went back to the States with a friend and spent the summer working in a hot dog factory. ‘We were the only two white people working there, and that was another fascinating insight into American life.’

A picture of the front building of Saint James Secondary School in Maryland, USA with two dry trees and USA flag in the front yard.
Saint James School in Maryland, USA
A photograph of Mark Mortimer sitting on headmaster's chair at school
Mark Mortimer, photographed by charlie Hopkinson © 2017

Now working in the world of education, Mark witnesses the value in cross-cultural exchange every day. ‘One of the great benefits of my current school is we have children from all over the world. It’s important to experience other cultures. What we’re seeing at the moment in society is tremendous insularity, people tending to talk in an echo chamber and not engaging with views that aren’t their own. We need to encourage young people to get out there and expose themselves to other points and view and the best way to do that is by going abroad.’

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