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CIS: Still 'something special'

Fifty-five years after CIS graduated its first class, students from the school's early days maintain its special role in their lives, careers, and relationships.

Photographs: Copenhagen International School

Text: Sarah Redohl

Copenhagen International School (CIS) had only been around for six years when Peter Host-Madsen moved to Denmark in 1969. Born to Danish parents, Peter grew up in the suburbs outside Washington, D.C. Although he spoke Danish at home, visited Denmark for summer holidays, and his family had many Danish friends, moving to Denmark at age 17 was still a bit of a culture shock.

Thankfully, he was familiar with at least one of his CIS classmates - a girl named Susse, whose father had been a D.C.-based correspondent for Berlingske. Her parents recommended CIS, and Susse herself introduced Peter to other students and guided him around the new school.

Although Peter intended to return to the U.S. for his senior year, he enjoyed CIS so much he decided to stay. He grew close to several teachers, including Mr. Levine, who taught history and politics (Peter's favourite subjects). He developed a social circle, attended parties, and visited Tuborg Brewery for free beers after the tour.

Peter also established the educational foundation for future success when he was among the first CIS students to participate in the International Baccalaureate (IB) exam, scoring high enough to earn acceptance into the University of Canterbury in Kent. "Going to an English university seemed the perfect solution," he said. "I wanted to stay in Denmark, but my Danish wasn't that good. Why not go to an English university and return to Denmark on my holidays?"

Peter managed to reconnect with one of his best mates from CIS, who had become a Hollywood producer. "We hadn't seen each other in 50 years, and we were talking like old times within 15 minutes."

After university, Peter became a school teacher in northern England. "There became less time for old friends," he said, citing work, marriage, and children. Over the years, he lost touch with everyone he'd known from his time in Denmark. When he retired after 35 years of teaching, he hoped to reconnect with his former classmates. "I'd always wondered what happened to this or that person."

Peter reached out to CIS to see if they had contact details for several of his old schoolmates, and the school invited him to its 50th anniversary reunion. However, when Peter walked into the 500-person event, the only person he recognised was his former principal, Mr. Gellar - who just so happened to remember Peter from a youthful prank he'd pulled during his time at CIS. "He mentioned it in his speech later that evening," Peter recalled, embarrassed.

But it was this recognition that put Peter on the map for schoolmates he hadn't recognised. Former classmate Helen Gallagher brought Peter over to a table of several other students from their time at CIS. From there, he and Helen worked to track down other former classmates - including Susse. In the end, they found nearly every classmate.

Peter discovered not only that his classmates had scattered across the globe - from San Francisco to Switzerland - but that they'd worked for world leaders and alongside famous actors. "In those 50 years, they've collected this big life story to tell you," he said. In addition, Peter managed to reconnect with one of his best mates from CIS, who had become a Hollywood producer. "We hadn't seen each other in 50 years, and we were talking like old times within 15 minutes."

Peter also visited his favourite teacher, whom he continues to call 'Mr. Levine', several times in Florida. And, he returns to Denmark regularly, where he always manages to meet up with Susse for dinner. "We all agree that it was a special school and a special time," he said, adding that there's something special about the people with whom you grow up. "I think there's something to your oldest friends being your best friends."

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