Vittoria Frua De Angeli: Aiglon (1994), Body Talk Coach, Yoga Teacher, Author and Former Corporate Lawyer

Posted: 28 February 2023

Vittoria Frua De Angeli is a Kurt Hahn Award Winner (1992) and an Aiglon alumna (1994). The Kurt Hahn Award is presented annually in recognition of an outstanding act of service to others. Vittoria was awarded the prize for her exceptional bravery and leadership in a challenging situation.

In 1992, at the age of 16, Vittoria undertook a dramatic water rescue during a school kayak trip. Her group, taking a moment to relax, were out of the boats and having lunch. Vittoria, unable to pull herself away from the water, was swimming in the river. A boat came over the rapids and capsized, trapping the kayaker.  Vittoria explains how she first realised there was someone in trouble. “We could hear screaming. The woman had gotten stuck between the rock and the boat on the other side of the river. The rapids were wedging her tighter and tighter against the rock face.”

Realising that the woman was in extreme danger, Vittoria, a strong swimmer, swam over to help. It took a few attempts, but she was able to get a life vest to the trapped kayaker and push away the kayak and the paddle that were wedging the woman against the cliffs. “The paddle was getting in the way of her being able to breathe. It was stuck against her, and I was trying to levy her out.” As she was battling with the boat and the paddle, another kayaker had managed to cross over to the other side of the river. He pulled the trapped woman out of the rapids so that she could swim downstream.

Later that same year, Vittoria attended the Round Square International Conference at Bishop’s College, Canada. She recalls participating in the Terry Fox Charity Run, “I remember the sea of faces, different people, and different realities” and making a life-long friend who was studying at Gordonstoun. Vittoria was also formally recognised by the Round Square community and awarded the Kurt Hahn prize. “I remember the ceremony. I was called up on stage feeling slightly perplexed as to why I was being given an award for something that seemed so second nature to me at the moment it was happening”.

For Vittoria, putting her own life in danger and saving the kayaker was a natural thing to do. She was helping someone in need. Living by the Atlantic Ocean, she had been raised a strong swimmer. Her parents were adamant that their children should have survival skills in the water, which meant that Vittoria just did what she knew she could do. “For me, it just seemed like the most natural thing in the world.”  Vittoria credits both her family and her school for having created opportunities to develop resilience and courage. At Aiglon, she often went out on expedition and was taught orienteering so that she could lead her peers. As a group leader, she was handed a map and she had to find their way.

“I think that is just one of the things that Aiglon is good at. Putting us in situations where at some point you are going to have to learn how to cope. You could be lost on a mountain with a map, and you have to get yourselves home. I think they expose you to realities that you’d probably otherwise not be aware of.”

Vittoria’s adventures continued long after finishing school. At the age of 18, she moved to the UK to study Comparative Law at The University of Kent and then, after graduation, headed to New York where she spent time working in the film industry. But, after a while, Vittoria returned to the UK to pursue a legal career in London. She worked in compliance, “the moral backbone of the banking world”, at the now defunct Lehman Brothers.

Vittoria’s sense of adventure continued as she took a career break and seized the opportunity to explore the world. During her travels she took a “deep dive” into yoga. She had already been practicing for 10 years but was interested in expanding her knowledge.  She gained her Yoga teaching qualification at the Yandara Yoga Institute in Mexico and was registered as a 200 hour e-YT at Yoga Alliance. Currently located in Milan, Vittoria has spent over 10 years teaching yoga and bringing deconstructed yoga into the corporate world. She demonstrates how the mental, physical, and spiritual practice of embodiment and body-based tools can build self-confidence and help people thrive under stress (and also counter the negative effects of stress).

Thinking back on her years at a character-led school, Vittoria is able to offer a unique insight into the impact personal development and experiential learning has on wellbeing long after graduation. “I now see threads that I probably didn’t recognise for what they were at the time. I definitely think that longevity makes a difference in terms of impact that the experiences have.”

A sense of community was one of those threads. The House System encouraged students to make connections in different year groups. Students ate in Houses – with allotted seating that changed frequently. It was a system designed to break down groups and create bonds across cultural and age divisions.

I think it’s impossible in any school to avoid the fact that there are some separations between who are considered the “cool kids” and who are considered the “uncool kids”. But I think that the democratisation of where people needed to sit at different meals, and also the different types of activities that you could participate in, meant that you were in contact with people who went beyond the subject that you were studying or the class that you were in.”

Vittoria’s life at boarding school was completely different to her life in New York. She developed close relationships with her peers and talks about how, far away from family, her fellow students became her “family of choice” as she shared experiences and reflected on the impact of daily experiences with her peers. “The people you digest all your experiences with are the people you are living with”.

The bonds built within the school community were strong and continue to be strong. Vittoria shares that she is still in contact with many alumni, some she did not know at school but she has connected with them later in life. “It is amazing to see that shared experience creates connections that seem to transcend geography and time.” This was most evident at the 2019 Aiglon reunion when over 700 alumni showed up at the school. “It was a beautiful reminder of how we had been each other’s families for the entire time we had spent at Aiglon”.

Thinking about how everyone had changed, Vittoria reflected that even though the alumni shared the same lived experiences at school, and grew up with common school values, their lives had played out differently. But what each person had in common was their sense of independence, their resilience, and their problem-solving skills. Character traits that were valued at Aiglon.

“We were taught to speak up for ourselves. We were given an extraordinary amount of independence. We were so lucky to have been given this opportunity. To walk out, explore, orient ourselves, and find our own way.”

Other invisible threads that Vittoria reflects upon are student agency and intercultural understanding. “We were always put into situations with very little teacher interference.” She does not remember formal civics classes, but she does remember the conferences, cultural expeditions, camping trips, and other opportunities to connect and work with people who were “from a different reality”. These personal engagements were also encouraged through debate. Dialogue and conflict resolution are skills that she values to this day.

I don’t think it would be possible to come through those experiences and not have some idea of how to engage with people who see things differently to you. Having to sit at a table with people and come up with consensus.”

A final invisible thread was wellbeing. Vittoria remembers how she used to start each day at Aiglon with a meditation, although she did not know what it was at the time.

“It was interesting that only years later it dawned on me that it was called “meditation” and that it had anything to do with Yoga. Looking back, it is amazing how, during the school day, they would dedicate time for someone to give us some idea, or value, that went beyond the nitty gritty of math or science, or whatever we were learning in classes, and give us a philosophical message or inspirational thought to soak in.”

When asked to share what her advice would be to her younger self, Vittoria is quick to reflect on how small things took on great magnitude when she was a teenager. She would tell herself not to “fret about the small things” not to get caught up in the “petty things”. In many ways, she feels that it would be the same message that she tells herself and others today, “don’t sweat the small stuff, just soak in what you have every day.”

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