The Swiss school where students study Dante in Florence and Flamenco in Seville

When we send our children to school, we expect that they'll learn how to read and write, to understand how the natural world works and how to measure things. Not as widely considered, but perhaps equally important, is the idea of ‘cultural capital’.

The Swiss school where students study Dante in Florence and Flamenco in Seville
Mark Aeschliman and students. Photo: TASIS

First coined by the French philosopher and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu in 1977, the term refers to the understanding of shared societal and cultural knowledge that allows a person to navigate and rise within a society.

You might think of ‘cultural capital’ as the ability to use stories and symbols to communicate effectively; to convince, persuade and inspire. In an increasingly frenetic world, this skill is arguably more important than ever – as is well-recognised at The American School In Switzerland (TASIS).

A school that promotes cultural conversations

Since its foundation in 1956, the independent boarding and day school in the canton of Ticino has made encouraging the development of cultural capital in its students part of its mission. Mark Aeschliman, an Art History and Architecture teacher who has worked at the school for 42 years, sees the approach as a central part of TASISs ethos.

“The school has always been a haven, a kind of neutral ground where students’ cultural backgrounds possess a kind of equivalence,” he says. “Cultures, histories, and points of view are showcased on a daily basis.”

As well as being a place of curriculum-based classroom learning, this means the school also provides a great platform for discussion of “current events and cultural mores,” Aeschliman says.

Alex Secilmis, a recent graduate, agrees with Aeschliman as he reflects on the varied places around the world that the school has taken him. “I went to Seville to learn Spanish and their traditional dances, to Florence to better understand Dante’s Inferno, and to Nepal to witness a radically different way of life,” he says.

A school where beauty matters

The emphasis on improving the mind is also helped by the school’s physical environment. Perched on a hillside in Montagnola, it boasts impressive views of snow-capped mountains and Lake Lugano, as well as striking buildings.

As Aeschliman states: “The school’s setting in the centre of Europe, in neutral, safe Switzerland, most certainly has an impact on developing minds. One of the pillars of the school is ‘beauty’, and the beauty of the world is on full display daily among the pre-Alps above Lake Lugano. The school’s founders also made a commitment to commission only works of classical architecture for the school’s campus.”

Offering both the International Baccalaureate and the Advanced Placement program, the school also subscribes to the ideas of E.D. Hirsch, the American curriculum expert. Hirsch advocates for a greater focus on cultural literacy, not only examining the meanings behind the stories and symbols we share, but also their changing significance over time.

This cannot be done without engaging with the wider world on a regular basis. Aeschliman says this is “a school where the mantra is ‘Europe is our classroom’.”

Even in the physical classroom, students are able to boost their cultural capital through the Core Knowledge curriculum that stresses increased lesson time in social studies and history as a vital component. This guided program begins in Pre-Kindergarten and continues throughout Elementary School.

Download TASIS’s brochures for Elementary, Middle and High School or request further information –  or to arrange a visit to the campus or a video meeting click here

A school where you can dream ‘big’

This is not just a school that excels academically. As Secilmis tells us, teachers at the school support students in pursuing their deepest personal interests – sometimes going to surprising lengths.

“I worked in a program called ‘TASIS Student Films’,” he says. “The teachers were open enough to let me follow my interests and try out a broad range of styles. It was a hands-on experience with the help of a great team, and in my last year I went ahead and made a feature-length comedy with a cast of 40 students and teachers. 

Creating together: Mark Aeschliman and a student. Photo: TASIS

“The initiative was my own, but TASIS gave me a great platform. The curriculum is eclectic so that you can really challenge yourself academically, whether that’s aiming for a certain university or just figuring out what your passions are.” Secilmis is now studying fillm theory at King’s College London.

Any student graduating from TASIS can expect to gain admission to a quality university in the US or Europe – including, in some cases, the world’s most selective institutions. Top performers include students interested in business careers, as well as cultural pursuits.

The school’s 2020 valedictorian, Giulia Meregalli, is studying Finance at the University of Cambridge and has already begun a career in management consultancy and strategy. 

“I’ll miss the ability to relate and build connections with people from all over the world – and being part of such an international student body,” she says. “I’ll also miss the at-home feeling that I knew at TASIS, feeling as stable, at ease, and comfortable as I would at home.”

A school where you experience the world

TASIS was the first American boarding school in Europe. Today the student body comprises 60 nationalities and 42 spoken languages. Students from all around the world get to take part in all kinds of international festivals throughout the year: major American festivals such as Thanksgiving, local festivals, and those celebrated by the various nationalities of the students.

Students are constantly reminded that they are part of a greater whole, of a world that can be understood and celebrated. In a world as unpredictable as we’ve experienced this year, the ability to relate to and understand people from all backgrounds will help the new generation flourish and thrive. In this respect, it seems that TASIS succeeds admirably by helping students develop ‘cultural capital’ – and much more besides.

Interested in learning more about TASIS? To arrange a visit to the campus or a video meeting with the admissions team, click here. For more information about applying to TASIS, click here. And to learn about the TASIS Summer Programs, click here.

For members


Swiss school or international school: Which is best for foreign parents?

A big question for foreign parents moving to Switzerland is whether to send their children to a Swiss state school or to an international school. Here’s what you need to know.

Swiss school or international school: Which is best for foreign parents?

International schools were originally founded for diplomats and foreign staff on the lookout for an English-speaking school to make the transition easier on their offspring.

Eventually, Switzerland’s international schools gained traction and began to attract the attention of many parents – even locals. Today they count among the most prestigious (and expensive) private schools worldwide.

First, let’s look at some of the advantages of an international school when compared to a state-run public school in Switzerland.

In general, Swiss-based international schools offer not only specially selected subjects, but also a better teacher-student ratio due to smaller classes, better equipment well as extracurricular activities ranging from tennis to drama lessons which not available in state-run local schools.

Moreover, private schools have so far been spared the teacher shortage which has taken over state-run schools. This in turn may lead to wealthier parents opting to choose a privately-run school to better secure their children’s future, according to the President of the Teachers’ Association Dagmar Rösler.

Still, there are a few things foreigners should consider before signing up their school-aged children to attend an international (or public) school.

Duration of your stay

If you are only moving to Switzerland for a short time and plan to relocate to your home country thereafter, an international school may prove just the right fit for your child as it could ease reintegration into their local school system.

Language and integration 

Switzerland-based international schools are – for the most part – run in English with the odd exception offering a bilingual course in the local language paired with English. However, they will offer other languages in the curriculum. 

If you plan to stay long-term or even settle down in Switzerland, it will be important for your child to integrate, and while this is possible when attending an international school, it will be much easier in a native environment – such as a state-run school – where your child is instructed in the local language.

This also enables your child to meet, interact and practice local languages with Swiss pupils as 95 percent of Swiss parents opt to send their children to state-run schools.

Additionally, most state-run schools offer additional language classes for foreign students.

Remember that while your child may feel more comfortable being in an international environment, this could make them feel isolated from Swiss culture in the long run.

You also should think about your child’s personality and what they might prefer or excel in. 

READ MORE: 5 things you never knew about Switzerland’s school system

A student carries books.

A student carries books. Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

School set-up

The majority of international schools in Switzerland classify as so-called ‘day’ schools, meaning that students will stay at the school during their lunch break with lunch being included (and provided) within the school fees.

Local state-run schools, however, expect their students to head home during their lunch break and no meals are offered at those schools. This can prove complicate depending on the parent or caregiver’s work schedules.

It’s also a good idea to research how the schools are run. In Switzerland, cantons are responsible for public schooling and there can be differences depending on the region. 

For instance, Studying in Switzerland reports that in German-speaking cantons, “kindergarten and two years of primary education are combined into the first learning cycle, and students aged four to eight years are in the same class. They call this Grundstufe or Basisstufe.”

In the French-speaking cantons, two years of kindergarten are combined with two other years to make the first cycle of primary education/

Meanwhile, in the Italian-speaking cantons “children attend kindergarten from the age of four”, says the site aimed at students and families considering Switzerland as a place to study. 

At international schools, institutions often follow a particular country’s educational philosophy. For example, it may be based on American, British, French or Japanese school systems. 


Switzerland’s public schools are usually in proximity to your home where your child should have easy access (by public transport) to the school. In fact, it is common for school-aged children to walk to school alongside their classmates rather than choosing to hop on a bus.

International schools will require you to arrange transportation – such as a school bus – and can be a hassle for your child to reach.


While it won’t be news to parents living in Switzerland who send their children to private schools, doing so is expensive – so expensive in fact that not only is Switzerland the most expensive country in Europe for international schools, but it is also home to the most expensive city for international schooling – Zurich.

Last year, a report, compiled by International Schools Database (ISD), compared the costs of international schools (in USD) in cities and countries across the globe. 

Switzerland faced no real rivals in Europe for top spot, particularly considering that the three most expensive cities for international schools on the continent were all based in Switzerland. 

Zurich took top spot with a median price of CHF 25,570, while Lausanne was in second (24,250 francs ) and Geneva was in third (23,366 francs). 

Meanwhile, state-run schools in Switzerland are free of charge.



If you have chosen to send your child to an international school, you will need to apply in order for your child to be admitted.

This will largely depend on how many places are available at any given time. It is usually recommended to check the application criteria for your chosen school and apply early to get ahead of the competition.

State-run schools guarantee admission for children of mandatory school age.