Ask the average teenager for the highlight of their school year and you might get a blank expression or perhaps a shrugged comment that at least the school holidays have just started.

Danielle Richardson's response is a little different. The 15-year-old American ticks off her busy learning schedule so far - a term in India, a holiday break climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, another term in Japan and now a new school year starting in Auckland.

"I'd say my favourite so far has been Kashmir. We were seeing how these people lived, we were hearing about the conflict that happened there - first-hand experiences - and it was unreal."

Jonah Dollery, from South Africa, also plumps for India, although he enjoyed the contrast. "India is a chaotic, crazy, fragrant, colourful place whereas Japan is this very neat organised society - and it was really neat to see the two."

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New Zealand student Elliott Weir has no idea what to expect yet. He's 13, has just joined from his home in Paraparaumu and is looking forward to seeing his home country through the eyes of the other students. Despite his age he looks like he won't be troubled by all the jetsetting - his parents are regular travellers and he spent four years growing up in the Cook Islands and another 18 months in Vietnam.

All three students are enrolled at Think Global School, an international travelling boarding school which spends each term at a host school in a different country, Founded as a non-profit enterprise four years ago by expat Kiwi Joann McPike, who subsidises much of the cost, it has grown to 48 students from 23 countries, who start at the New Zealand equivalent of Year 10 (fourth form) and complete the International Baccalaureat course over four years. The school arrived in Auckland a few weeks ago and is based at ACG Senior College in the city centre.

The school arrived in Auckland a few weeks ago and is based at ACG Senior College in the city centre.

THINK Global School is a high school that offers teenagers a once-in-a-lifetime international experience. TGS students don’t simply “study abroad.” They immerse themselves in twelve countries over four years. Nzherald.co.nz caught up with the founder and three students during the term in Auckland.

The curriculum reads like a neverending school trip crossed with a Lonely Planet guide. In India, students learned about the differences between British and Portuguese colonisation through a trip to Goa, a former Portuguese settlement, and used their visit to a tea plantation in South India to design a business case for a new brand.

In the past four years they have learned history by walking along section of the Great Wall of China, marine biology by scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, and the effects of climate change by observing glaciers retreating in the Himalayas.


Each term is loaded with special experiences - in Ecuador the whole school travelled to the Galapagos Islands for two weeks and watched a sea lion giving birth. In Argentina they found time for tango lessons and a trip to an All Blacks-Pumas test match at La Plata, Buenos Airies, in 2012.

The Herald catches up with them on top of Mt Eden, taking in the view of their latest host city as the Auckland spring weather shifts between rain, wind and sunshine. First-years are assigned to map reading skills and second-years are told to look around for potential sources of environmental problems. In the next few months they plan to go whale watching in the Bay of Plenty and experience Maori culture in Rotorua and Taupo. Next term they're off to Istanbul - billed on the school's website as both the crossroads of Europe and Asia and the place where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express - and then to Athens, the birthplace of modern philosophy and the Olympic Games.

The school is the brainchild of McPike, who grew up in Taupo, left New Zealand at 18 and travelled the world as a photographer. When she married Bahamas-based multi-millionaire investor Harry McPike they continued travelling with their son, Alex, including a month-long Journey of Man expedition which followed humanity's development out of Africa. Alex had been to 72 countries by the time he was 13.

Not surprisingly, McPike could not find a secondary education like this for him, despite contacting boarding schools throughout the world, so she created her own school. It started in Stockholm in 2010 with 15 students, who went dog-sledding to within 300km of the Arctic Circle. At the end of that term the exhausted teenagers petitioned staff for less travel so they could concentrate on their studies.

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McPike has since separated from her husband but continues to support the school financially, which is an expensive business. Apart from all the guided tours, TGS employs 30 staff, including 20 who travel with the students and four who are fulltime guardians. The students stay at a local hotel and do most of their learning on iPads and other digital devices.

The fees still look daunting at US$79,000 a year (about three times the cost of a top private boarding school in New Zealand) but McPike says nearly all the students are subsidised through a scholarship programme.

"It's an expensive school to go to but it's not only for the kids who can afford it, it's for the kids who really, really want it and are really going to do something with it."

Many parents have misgivings about sending their children away from home for four years, she says, but change their minds when they see the results after a single term.

"They go home and their parents call up and go 'Wow, what did you do?' They come back with opinions and confidence. That's in only three months."

Danielle and Jonah say they have missed family and friends but find they can deal with it.

Jonah uses Facebook to keep in touch with friends and Skype to talk to his parents, who now live in Harare.

Danielle, who grew up in Hawaii and Thailand, calls twice a day to her mother, who teaches at an international school in Switzerland.

Jonah smiles when asked what he plans to do after leaving school.
"This is a question I get asked a lot." He plans to go to university somewhere in the world, perhaps Auckland.

Danielle, who plans to make a film of the school's trip here, is interested in directing or writing for the screen.

Elliott, who has his own wildlife blog and likes to visit national parks when he's in a new country, is thinking of wildlife photography. It's early days at the new school but he seems to found his feet early in this group, where being on the move is regarded as normal. "Everyone gets you."