An interview with the SEGL in London team!

January 02, 2023

Editor's Note: Last week we sat down with the founding members of the SEGL in London team – Christian Starling, Ali Pratt, and Abby Reed – to talk all things London. Read on for details about new Ethics & Leadership opportunities, Spring and Fall Break travel excursions, Christian’s favorite neighborhood, and everything in between.

Q: This is SEGL’s third campus and second international location. Why London?

CS: London is one of the world’s best classrooms for an institution like SEGL: it is a nexus of global finance, European politics, and the arts. It is a place where we can continue to prioritize “front page of the newspaper” issues and learning from (and challenging!) the leaders who are responding to them.

AP: We’ve already run five successful London summer programs, during which our students have had incredible access to guest speakers (like Members of the UK and European Union Parliaments), immersive place-based learning opportunities (like at Victoria Memorial, just outside Buckingham Palace), and exciting weekend activities (like touring the Tower of London). Those five summer programs mean we’re in great shape to hit the ground running in London.

AR: And the response we’ve gotten from prospective students and families confirms that London is the right choice. In fact, the early numbers (in what may be our most competitive admissions year ever) show London is even more attractive to prospective participants than Johannesburg or DC!

Q: What will be the same on the London campus?

CS: Most importantly, our mission. We will always have a diverse student body and faculty team (with diversity our students can see, and diversity it will take them the entire semester to appreciate). And it will always be our students’ responsibility to shape themselves into ethical leaders who create positive change in our world. Whether we teach you the S.T.A.R. critical thinking model at the Victoria Memorial or the Emancipation Memorial, our loyalty to the SEGL mission will remain the same.

AR: The Ethics & Leadership (E&L) course will pursue the same goals in London as in DC and Johannesburg. Students in London will also complete our three traditional capstone projects: the Collaborative Policy Document, the Social Venture Project, and the Ethical Credo. While some case studies will look different in London, the core elements of SEGL’s flagship course will remain the same.

AP: SEGL students will always have the opportunity to shape their semester in multiple ways, whether that’s planning a student-run weekend activity, leading a school meeting, or proposing policy changes. Every semester, students work to build community within their particular cohort through roommate relationships, sharing a living space with all of their classmates, and exploring the city together. In these ways, London will be no different!

Q: What will be different in London?

AP: One big difference is the opportunity for more UK- and Europe-focused case studies in E&L. So many influential leaders work all over the city of London: these are new guest speakers and site visits just waiting to happen! Brexit, the legacy of the United Kingdom’s colonial empire, the Scottish independence referendum, the UK’s government structure – these are just a few of the thorny topics students can confront in London.

CS: One exciting academic difference will be the opportunity to choose a “track” as part of our E&L curriculum. Inspired by the College Board’s AP Seminar and AP Research courses, SEGL’s E&L Tracks will provide students with the opportunity to focus and deepen their studies. We will offer tracks in art history and international finance initially; each student will pick an issue within their track to investigate and have time each week to engage in group learning experiences and individual research tasks. Imagine studying the provenance of art and historical artifacts from Commonwealth countries, for example, or the role of cryptocurrency in the developing world – given London’s importance in the art history and finance realms, students will find countless unique ways to study these and other topics.

AR: Travel over Thanksgiving and Spring Break! London is an ideal launchpad for once-a-semester (and once-in-a-lifetime) European excursions. Instead of flying back home for breaks, students will travel together to the Continent. Imagine visiting the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, or the International Criminal Court in the Hague, or the Louvre in Paris, or the Vatican in Rome. Not only can this sort of travel expose students to even more international decision-makers, it will also allow them to deepen friendships in fascinating destinations.

Q: These opportunities sound incredibly exciting. Can you share a few more snapshots of what student life could look like?

AR: Imagine holding history class in the halls of Parliament, or learning physics through an interactive exhibit at the London Science Museum, or considering the real-life application of math at Bletchley Park, the top-secret home of WWII codebreakers. With a new schedule that allows for even more flexibility in our academic day, students will be able to take full advantage of everything the city has to offer.

CS: Want to see a (UK Government-sanctioned and protected) Banksy piece as part of a larger street art tour? You can in Shoreditch. Want to see a Warhol, or a Picasso, or a Dalí? You can at the Tate Modern. Want to see a Shakespeare play (or two, or three)? You can at the Globe or at St. Paul’s Church, also known as the Actors Church.

AP: And these are only the ideas we have as teachers! As always, SEGL students will have the opportunity to plan many weekend outings. Past weekend trips organized by summer program students have included seeing a show in Covent Garden, visiting the Churchill War Rooms, touring St. Paul’s Cathedral, playing soccer (or should I call it football?!) in Hyde Park, exploring Oxford University, and hosting a talent show right here on campus or down the street in Russell Square. Now that we’re launching a semester-long campus, students will have even more opportunities to explore London on weekends.

Q: And, finally, what is your personal favorite place in London?

AP: Daunt Books for Travelers! Every time I’m in London, I make sure to go to this bookstore. Rather than being organized by genre, it’s organized by region of the world: you have a section for books written about, and by authors from, the African continent, and the Middle East, and South America, and the Caribbean, and East Asia, and all over Europe. Every country has its own shelf, essentially! I can very easily spend hours browsing through their bookshelves.

AR: I love strolling along the South Bank of the Thames, starting at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and winding west to Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster. Along the way, you pass the Tate Modern on your left; since the museum is free, it’s easy to pop in to see a few Picassos and Rothkos. Just across the Millennium Bridge, you can see the epic dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral rising above its modern architectural neighbors. As boats chug along the Thames, it’s easy to imagine centuries of Londoners conducting trade along the very same central artery. I like to end across the river from the Palace of Westminster, where, if dusk is setting, the building lights up gold against the gray river. Those few kilometers, packed with London landmarks, are some of my favorites in the city.

CS: Here’s a good walk to take in Shoreditch, my favorite neighborhood in London: Start at Attendant Coffee Roasters, not far from the Old Street Tube stop. I recommend a “brekkie roll” and a black coffee. Meandering east will get you to Goodhood, an excellent clothing store. Eventually head south, marking the location for Dishoom Shoreditch for dinner as you walk past it, and then head slightly east to Brick Lane, which is full of markets selling all sorts of well-cared-for Barbour jackets, local art, and other tchotchkes. Take in all of the free, and ever-changing, street art by internationally famous artists lining the walls, buildings, and even sidewalks (see if you can spot Ben Wilson’s chewing gum art!) of this neighborhood.