Alumna helping students harness creativity at international school in Germany

January 25, 2022 — As the senior academic leader for the IB Middle Years Programme at the International School of Düsseldorf in Germany, Laura Maly-Schmidt ’87 handles her responsibility for student impact through service with gravity and gratitude.

Laura Maly-Schmidt '87
   Laura Maly-Schmidt ’87

The school emphasizes world citizenship, but overseeing service opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging. Many popular service programs involving travel had to be put on hold. Still, Maly-Schmidt followed her own advice to students when she “turned learning into action” and “harnessed creativity and positivity” by drawing inspiration from a project she heard about called Letters Against Isolation.

With the support and engagement of all sectors of the international school, she collected over 500 cheerful cards and letters, written both in English and German. To create both local and worldwide impact, German cards were sent last year to a local senior center in Düsseldorf, while English ones were given to residents at the Mayflower Community Health Center in Grinnell.

“Mayflower residents and staff were moved by the project,” says Leslie Jaworski, Mayflower community life director. “Each encouraging word, drawing, work of art, and poem was appreciated. We thank them for sharing their generous hearts and messages of hope!”

Maly-Schmidt fondly recalled accompanying her friend Heather Leith ’88 in visiting her grandmother in the Mayflower when the two were students at Grinnell. Leith’s grandmother would make her famous and delicious kringla. That memory sparked the card project. 

Maly-Schmidt started her Grinnell journey with the tutorial class, I Know I Like It, But I Can’t Tell You Why, which she says provided her with lots of writing exercises in describing sensory experience that were helpful to her as an English major. But Maly-Schmidt left Grinnell with more than an English degree. 

She was one of the first groups to spend a ninth semester at Grinnell earning her teaching certification. That certification allowed her to teach English as an Additional Language at Anatolia College in Greece, which coincidentally was founded by a Grinnellian, George White 1882. After three years there, Maly-Schmidt returned to the U.S. to obtain her master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at Columbia.

Mayflower resident Kay Roberts displays one of the cards she received last year from students of the International School of Düsseldorf in Germany.
  Mayflower resident Kay Roberts
  displays one of the cards
  she received last year from
  students of the International
  School of Düsseldorf in

Afterwards, Maly-Schmidt visited a Grinnell friend in Düsseldorf while she pondered her next steps. Her time at Anatolia College had opened her eyes to how many amazing international schools there were all around the world. She knew she wanted to teach English at another one but had not made up her mind on where.

Knowing there was an international school just down the road, Maly-Schmidt’s friend suggested she do a practice interview there. Now, 28 years later, Maly-Schmidt happily remains at the International School of Düsseldorf. She loves witnessing “how kids can be empowered by helping other people.”

For example, students at the International School of Dusseldorf participate in an annual Walkathon where they collect donations and then walk or run a 12 km route. Their most recent walkathon garnered 23,000 euros, which a student committee then allocated to different student service projects.

“I enjoy watching future generations learn invaluable skills like decision-making, money management, and persuasive speaking through self-gov at an even earlier age than I was when I attended Grinnell,” she says.

Several of Maly-Schmidt’s family members attended Grinnell including her mom Nancy Schmulbach Maly ’61; siblings Allan Layne Maly ’90 and Alix Marsters ’91; her daughter, Samantha Maly-Schmidt ’19; and a niece, Maly Erzsebet Marsters ’20. Nancy was an American Field Service exchange student in Germany during 1956 and the family hosted exchange students from Australia, France, Germany, and Turkey. 

“When my mom started doing international recruitment for her job at Grinnell College she would travel annually to Europe, Asia, and South America and the stories of her trips were amazing,” Maly-Schmidt says. “That is really how I started to hear of international schools all around the world. My mom has had a huge influence on my interest in different cultures, places, languages, people, and travel as well as my open-mindedness, curiosity, and respect for others.”

— by Savannah Crenshaw ’23

For your information:

Laura Maly-Schmidt ’87 was an English major at Grinnell. Learn more about today’s English program at the College.

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