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The Hero’s Journey

By Andrew Hoover
The Hero’s Journey

Greetings from the American International School – Chennai (AISC). Chennai, formerly Madras, is a lovely, sprawling city of about eight million people tucked along the southern coast of India on the Bay of Bengal. Here, local culture flourishes, the economy hums, and the sun shines brightly nearly every day.
We welcomed sixteen new faculty members, including three associate teachers, in late July and started the 2014–2015 school year on August 5 with 916 students—slightly below our start-of-year number last year. This summer, our facilities teams and external contractors managed to complete a new gym, a new outdoor covered gym, an elementary playground complex, an outdoor elementary amphitheater, six new high school science labs, a middle school counseling suite, and new entries to the elementary and secondary schools before the first class started. I am lucky to be surrounded by such committed and engaged groups of people.
My daughter, a 10th grade student at AISC, spent two weeks in the Oregon wilderness this summer on a river raft and hiking though the Cascades with a group of eight other students and three counselors. She returned bronzed, mosquito-bitten, dirty, tired, wind-blown, and smiling. When I asked about her experience, she described the Hero’s Journey that she and her team had spent time discussing.
The American mythologist Joseph Campbell studied myths from cultures across the globe and determined that hero stories all maintained a common structure. He pictured the hero’s experience as a circle that starts from home, proceeds into the unknown, then arrives back home again.
In this arch, the hero first separates from her home to embark on a journey toward the unknown. In the unknown realm, the hero faces challenges, makes necessary sacrifices, and is confronted with an ultimate test; together, these experiences lead to learning, the fashioning of a new identity, and transformation. The hero then returns home as a changed person who can and will make a positive difference in the lives of those around her.
My daughter used the Hero’s Journey Model to understand her experience in the woods and her subsequent return home. As I listened to her, I began reflecting on the school year as a hero’s journey, in which students set off to be challenged and engaged by new friends, new learning, and new practices; in which they are asked to make sacrifices and compromises, sharing and persevering even when things aren’t comfortable; and, through those challenges and sacrifices, learn who they are and how they can make their unique contributions in a diverse and dynamic world.
I hope that all of you find your worlds filled with heroes-in-the-making in the coming months. I also echo the sentiments of so many of you wishing the best for those who are facing extraordinary challenges from circumstances beyond your control. You are all in the throes of heroic journeys and you will eventually come “home,” transformed and stronger than ever before.
Andrew Hoover is Head of School at the American International School – Chennai.

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