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Spotlight On

Leonid Peisakhin, Cumming House 1999 - Assistant Professor of Political Science, NYU (Abu Dhabi)

From the Ivory Tower…

As I sit down to write this, it dawns on me that it has been nineteen years almost to the day since I first set foot at Gordonstoun - a mere trifle from the perspective of those sharing fascinating reminiscences about the School in the 1940s, but an eternity when considered form the point of a view of a thirteen year-old making his first trip abroad, as I was then. The vivid detail of those first few weeks and months is unlikely ever to fade. In August 1994, I arrived in Scotland with my mother in tow - that was my first trip ever outside of Russia. A greater contrast than that between the post-Soviet dilapidation of what was back then an urban dystopia of St. Petersburg and the multicultural splendor of vibrant London or the rural idyll of Morayshire can scarcely be imagined. We were not fully conversant with all the local mores, and the idea that large tracts of land should be privately owned without right of access seemed particularly difficult to digest. As we had a few days to spare before the start of term and knew next to nothing of local attractions, it seemed like a good idea to wander into one of the local verdant fields for a bit of sunbathing (it was one of those all too rare sunny and warm Scottish summers). Within twenty minutes we, being in a state of some undress, found ourselves surrounded by a group of men in full tweeds (in 32C degree heat!), on horseback, and wielding shotguns; the hounds must have been suffering from a heat stroke. An idyll interrupted…

Leonid Peisakhin   Leonid Peisakhin

The next few months proved equally challenging, as I struggled to get my bearings. It transpired that the few English sentences that I was capable of mustering in a rather frightening accent were hopelessly outdated, as Russian schools still relied on what were effectively Victorian-era textbooks copied and recopied since the time of the Russian Empire (I must have sounded rather like that famous Bram Stoker character; in fact, I was even cast as a sort of Bond villain in a Cumming House play in 1995). However, Mrs Clutton (my third form English teacher) and Mr Gabb (the Housemaster at Cumming) were not about to be daunted by that and soon put me right. Despite my rapidly improving English, I might have tried to make a dash for the Russian Embassy had that railway line to Lossiemouth still been in place! Soon, though, things were back on track, and the Gordonstoun years turned out to be some of the happiest and most interesting thus far. More importantly, the healthy injection of internationalism that I acquired at Gordonstoun was absolutely pivotal in shaping my professional development and career choices.

A proud owner of a small cartload of academic degrees in political science from Harvard, Oxford, and Yale, I am currently completing my final year of a post-doctoral research fellowship in Madrid. My research is centred on the exploration of causes of political and economic behavior. Specifically, I ask whether the choices that shape our lives - from the most mundane daily routines to the most momentous decisions at the highest levels of politics and business - are shaped by material interests, institutional rules, or culture. In many ways, my interest in this set of issues was first sparked at Gordonstoun while observing young people of over fifteen different nationalities negotiate the often-complex realities of communal life.

The search for answers to these near-intractable questions has taken me from the long-forgotten borderlands of the Russian Empire, to Korean War veterans’ homes in Taiwan, by way of the slums of Mumbai and New Delhi and the Roma villages of Wallachia. While I am not much nearer to answers, I certainly do feel a lot wiser for having undertaken the search. One thing that strikes me again and again on my travels is how large and omnipresent the Gordonstoun community is. On a recent trip to Saõ Paulo, I was hosted by the family of Victor Cvintal, a dear friend from the Cumming days. In New York, my first port of call is always YoHan Cho’s charming home. And even at my tiny institute in Madrid there is an old Gordonstounian - Andrew Richards, who was at the School in the mid-1980s. Wonderful fruit has sprung from Hahn’s commitment to internationalism, and the School is much stronger for it going into the 21st century. Perhaps it is time to add “Soyez chez vous dans le monde” (Be at home in the world!) to our usual “Plus Est en Vous”…


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