glasgow, scotland | friend. daughter. dreamer. entrepreneur. speaker. eternal child.

founder of ISSOS summer school.

Summertime. School is out, and for a few short weeks, children around the world take a break from their studies, spend their days vacationing with family, eating ice cream, while enjoying outdoor activities until the lightning bugs indicate bedtime is near. However, there are a few kids out there who have the sheer good fortune to attend summer school. Yes, you read that correctly. A very select few have the opportunity to attend ISSOS, a unique and exclusive summer school located in Scotland. Allow me to introduce you to Jen Munro, founder of ISSOS summer school, a place that continues to stretch young minds and engage the senses — all summer long.

Ms. Munro was an only child raised in Glasgow, Scotland, UK. She attended a high school that offered a value-led education, something she continues to appreciate over a decade later. Jen then attended St. Andrews University, Scotland’s first university founded in 1413. A lover of theater, she eventually ended up running her own production company and became president of the theatre’s funding body. Ms. Munro credits her extra curricula activities at university among her greatest experiences. The contacts and confidence gained through that experience have proved to be invaluable, giving her a strong foundation to develop one of the world’s most exclusive summer schools. International Summer School of Scotland (ISSOS) was founded to provide a well-balanced, supervised summer program to international students, while exposing them to the UK as a place to travel and study. Only accepting 10 percent of students from any single country, this school offers a truly international summer experience made up of students from over 60 nationalities.

Jen Munro is a woman who values education and believes it is important to recognize the difference between social and emotional intelligences verses academic intelligence; traits that she understands to be equally significant. As ISSOS continues to grow in Scotland, the summer school will soon be expanding to the United States.

If you have never had the opportunity to experience summer camp first-hand, I would say that teaching at one of the most prestigious camps in the world is a close second. Ms. Munroe accepts applications year round for those who wish to share their expertise to influence the hearts and minds of future leaders. Summer studies never sounded so good!


How did you choose the life you lead and was it a conscious decision?

This is one of those questions that I feel so privileged to be asked and able to answer. I had the freedom to choose the life I currently lead, and that I was conscious enough to know that life and the direction it takes is just that—a choice. So to answer the latter first was it a conscious choice—yes, but one that came about because of a ‘a-ha moment.’

From the age of 14 I thought I wanted to be a theatre producer, to take people on a journey and ignite their imagination. However, when I was 20 I decided to spend my summer working in a summer camp in the US, thinking I was going to have a one of kind summer experience, instead my life, my heart and my motivations changed. I fell in love with 100 camp counselors and 300 kids and I saw a industry at work that created a safe place for kids and staff, that let them be who ever they wanted to be. We were in a place that time stood still and everyone lived from their heart. Basically, I found what I think never-never land is like.

I returned to work at the same camp for four summers, leading and designing their councilor in training program. During my fourth summer at camp, having just graduated from university I was very confused as to why life had brought me back to this camp four times and why it had such a strong influence over my life. What was it I was supposed to do with this experience, and how could I design my life so I could love my work as much as I loved being at Camp?

Then the “a-ha moment.” I was standing on the canoes dock (still the place I go in my head when I day dream) and I felt this little hand take mine, I looked down and there was a little girl from my drama class and she handed me a wooden plaque she had made in wood burning and said “Jen, this is for you,” on the plaque was written a quote, a quote that changed my life and is now written on every training manual my company produces and is above the door in my office. “100 years from now, it will not matter the kind of car I drive, the size of house I live in, nor the amount of money in my bank account. My life will be better because I was important in the life of a child.” I realized then, I wanted to create something that made a real difference in the life of young people. How? I had no idea, I was 24 and all I knew was that I had found a purpose and I had a responsibility to do something with it.

One year later I launched ISSOS an international summer school for kids 13-18 years old from around the world and it has now been going for nine years. We have two campuses; St Andrews and Cambridge Universities and we are preparing to launch in the USA.


Tell us a little about your role at ISSOS. What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

I am the founder and managing director at ISSOS. We have an office of five people, and as managing director, I make sure that what we are offering is in line with our company values and that those who work for the company understand the bigger picture. ISSOS is more than a company that operates, designs and runs summer schools, it exists to create a safe place for people to learn and grow, to break down social barriers and create a greater understanding of the world as a whole. We help young people to realize we are all connected. Our goal is to grow young peoples’ confidence and to give them the confidence to follow their heart.

The most enjoyable part of my job is the six weeks of summer when I get to see students who have attended ISSOS for four or five years, who return and then leave again with more confidence. I see how a three-week experience has made a positive impact on their lives. Also, ISSOS has given me the opportunity to work with some of the most incredible people: talented, enthusiastic, heart-led, passionate individuals. I am so proud of our team. I have also had the strange, yet amazing opportunity to employ ex-campers and counselors from the summer camp where my story began in the U.S.

 

Does ISSOS offer scholarship opportunities for students?

Not at the moment, however,  it is something we are exploring. We want to ensure that assistance would be directed  to genuinely deserving students. We believe the best way to make this possible, is by asking our teaching staff to recommend students that they have worked with in previous years.

 

You promise your teachers and staff the same amazing experience you promise your students. What qualities do you look for the most when hiring educators and can you briefly describe how an instructor’s summer may look?

We look for those who went in to teaching to inspire, those who love the subject they teach and understand that teaching is one of the most amazing and influential professions that exist. We want people that wish to inspire and have a positive influence on the next generation. We look for educators who make lessons fun, interactive and facilitate learning as opposed to lecturing. Essentially, we look for people who put fun and relevance into learning. Also, it is important that each teacher believes every kid is born with the ability to change the world. As educators, it is our responsibility to make sure kids believe they have the creativity, knowledge, confidence and ability to do so.

We choose staff who are professionals in their field, not traditional teachers but those who are passionate about what they do and have the desire to covey that passion to others that will help them grow.

As a teacher at ISSOS, you teach a three-hour class every morning Monday-Friday, take part in and help run at least one evening activity a week. Over the weekend, teachers are free to go on the full-day cultural trip, run a workshop on something we have found the students want to learn about (touch rugby, university admission, photography, song writing, circus skills, etc). We look for teachers who want to get involved in the summer school as a whole, and who are genuinely interested in the students, so most of the teachers hang out and come to evening activities, etc. It is a fully residential summer program so all teachers, counselors and coaches live on the campus, which provides an amazing atmosphere. There is a lot of laughter and a great bunch of people who enjoy spending time together. We have a high number of return staff, so that is the best testament to the staff experience we could possibly have.

  

How do you bring courage to a challenging situation?

If it is work related, I try to remember the reason I started the summer school in the first place. I try to step back and take time to view the situation from different angles. People are the most important thing in the world to me so as long as no one is hurt, or there is no threat to someone’s safety, I tend to be of the opinion that everything else can be solved. And if not, I know I can learn from it and maybe that is the way it is meant to be.

  

If someone wanted to follow in your footsteps, what are three steps they must take to pursue such a career path?

I am not sure there is a step-by-step guide to setting up a summer school or a business in general, but the most important thing is to find something you are passionate about, focus on it and make it a reality. Learn from anyone and every situation. Never stop learning. Don’t listen to the people who tell you you can’t do it or that you are not good enough. Everyone is born with all the creativity, talent and ability they need to lead an exceptional life. Believe in the innate ability you were born with and believe in yourself; be the best version of yourself every day. Also, it is important to have the courage to follow your heart and your dreams.

  

Can you tell us about education at Cambridge and St. Andrew’s? Who has attended these prestigious schools and does Kate Middleton make any visits to her Alma Mater? (She would make a great mentor!)

I went to St Andrews University and it was the best four years I could ever have imagined: beautiful place, great teaching, and full of opportunity. Kate Middleton and Prince William are still great supporters of St. Andrews and attend events hosted by the university both in St Andrews and most recently New York.

Cambridge is also a beautiful university, I did not attend Cambridge and pretty sure I would not have been accepted, it was far too difficult for me. However, it has a large list of famous alumni: Stephen Fry, Steven Hawkins, John Cleese, Trevor Nunn, Eddie Redmayne and Prince Charles, to name but a few.

  

What is your best advice on how to live a graceful life?

Treat others the way you would like to be treated.  Understand that everyone sees life through a different set of eyes, a different set of experiences and its important to try and see things from other peoples view of reality. Try and live from a place of non-judgment. Also, enjoy life, and be thankful for all experiences, both good and bad. Learn from everything and everyone, and never stop learning and growing. Life is an adventure to be lived. Surround yourself with people who feed your soul and make you and allow you to be the best version of yourself.

To summarize: Live from a place of love—love for people and yourself.


j. jane side notes:

Ms. Munro, please consider this blog post an official application to teach a summer course in mentorship for your summer program at ISSOS.

If the Dutchess of Cambridge happens to read this post: please consider this a formal invitation to share your thoughts on mentorship. Young girls and sophisticated women around the world would appreciate the opportunity to learn how you maintain grace under unparalleled pressures.

To learn more about Ms. Munro incredible summer school visit www.ISSOS.com. Your kids will thank you for it!