My journey began in Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa, on 9 May 2018, excited to be presenting a keynote at St Stithians College’s inaugural Raising Boys and Girls 2018 Conference.
There are seven schools that make up St Stithians College – five on one glorious campus. My accommodation was just outside the school’s gates and it was lovely to walk across the campus and explore such beautiful grounds.
For me the experience was surreal and I found it hard to imagine what it would be like to go to a school like this. Total contrast to where I went to school in England.
The grounds are five kilometres around and I thoroughly enjoyed running and walking in the sunshine in my spare time. The school is amazing with state of the art sports arenas, chapel, boys prep, girls prep, boy’s college, girl’s college and junior prep.
As i explored, I hoped the students realise how lucky they are. I felt grateful just to be there for a few days.
The Real Issue… Diversity and Inclusion
The conference kicked off on Thursday with the school choir singing traditional African songs, which was moving. The theme of the conference was on “raising boys and girls”, yet I could clearly see the real discussions were focused on “diversity and inclusion”, with “inclusion” being emphasised.
There are many issues in South Africa that continue to separate people, and it was a sad to hear the amount of fear and anger that still pervades. I would love to see more positive psychology and appreciative inquiry brought into the mix moving forward as I think it could really help.
Our final panel wrapped up the conference with some great questions from the audience – particularly lots of questions about the brain! There is an endless fascination for all of us around this special, unique and intriguing organ.
Positive Parenting Evening
On Thursday evening, I was invited to do a Positive Parenting session where I was happy to talk about the theory of applying positive psychology to parenting and allow others to put it into practice.
The event was held in the chapel, which was another surreal experience for me. The school is Methodist, although they have students from a range of denominations. Personally, the only churches and chapels I have seen include the basilicas of Rome, and the glorious cupola in Florence. I love the beauty and aesthetics, yet it felt strange to present in a chapel to 300 parents sitting in pews with standing room only, especially as they initially suggested I present from the pulpit. Which I respectfully declined.
The event focused on positive emotions, growth mindset and understanding how we learn and grow. I felt honoured to have been invited to share my knowledge and experience with such a warm, welcoming and engaged group.
I have a huge respect for the work the school is trying to do in bringing teachers together from across the country and building a better future. I hope we have the opportunity to work with the school and the teachers from across the country again.
Getting To Meet The Lions
The day after I arrived was a free day and the school had arranged for Jazz, one of the PTA leaders, to take me to the Lion Safari Park, where I had some amazing interactions with the animals. She was so wonderful, kind and accommodating to just let me explore. We had so much in common too as she is studying positive psychology at IE Universidad in Madrid - with lecturers that include our own fabulous Denise Quinlan amongst other great names!
First event of the day at the part was a private lion walk. I was taken into an enclosure with two 12-month-old male lions. Oh my goodness! We walked around and I got the chance to see these magnificent animals up close and personal. My emotions were running high, including a combination of nervousness, awe, excitement, happiness, anticipation, wonder, hesitance, fear and joy.
There is a strength and power in these creatures, even at just 12 months and 90 kilos, that you should have an edge of fear and awe. Their paws were bigger than my head and I know they could have killed me in seconds, yet they are also so beautiful and glorious.
The most exciting part of my visit, and maybe I should have led with this - I got bitten by a lion! Yes, I know! I was so thrilled. OK, it was a baby lion so please don’t worry… he didn't get through the cargo pants. The cheeky chap started playing and rolling over and started to try out his baby teeth on my thigh. It was just like how cats behave at home when they are playing. He didn’t hold on long, yet I bruise easily, so he did make a baby bite mark! I took photos to prove it!
I even got to meet the brand new two and a half week old white lion cubs - so cute and delicious!
Next was a safari truck tour around the park with Alex, who has been there for 30 years, and has hand raised some of the animals including this beautiful giraffe pictured.
He took us around the park sharing tales of lions, and letting me pat the cheetahs, hyenas, and leopards. The black leopard was my favourite – he was young and definitely still wild, yet so sleek and gorgeous.
We also saw zebra, springbok, water buffalo, warthogs, and elegant giraffes.
I loved my trip – both the work and the play. It was hugely conducive to my wellbeing and I am grateful to everyone in my team and St Stithians College who made it possible.
I feel very lucky to have had this experience. I look forward to returning soon.