Embark on a voyage of learning

Who is Charlotte Meyer Zu Natrup?

What were your previous jobs before coming to ISH?

I have had a myriad of jobs over the years. I have been a waitress and bartender, sold confectionary and magazines at historical enactment events, organised golfing events, taught Spanish to adults and toddlers, worked in a shop full of curiosities from abroad, stacked shelves and worked on a checkout, worked for the Business Innovations team at an insurance firm, worked in call centres and as a temp in offices and cleaned.

One job I had when I was at university was as a Foreign Exchange clerk before the Euro was introduced. I worked for Thomas Cook at a branch in Middlesex in England and had to wear a psychedelic uniform and sit in a tiny cubicle. My job was to serve customers bundles of Turkish lira, Spanish peseta, French francs and many other currencies in exchange for their pounds sterling. The hours were long, but I enjoyed the job because it was the first time in my life that I had to rely on maths and get good at counting quickly. It was also the first time that I had had a job that involved using my brain rather than stacking shelves, serving food and washing dishes. Before you set foot in the cubicle you actually had to understand exchange rates and count notes fast in different multiples and that was more fun than stacking cereal boxes and cartons of milk.

The job that I have enjoyed the most, other than being a mum and teaching is writing a column for ‘Vegan Life’ whilst I was on maternity leave. I had to write about the experiences of raising vegan children as an expat in Germany. I learnt so much about writing and language and about myself reflecting on each story before I wrote it.

I also briefly had a blog for Plant Based news. I once interviewed the MP for the Vegan Party in Hamburg in German. The article went viral and I was proud that I could do that in another language and then write about it in English, and that I was reporting real news.

What advice would you give your high school self?

I have a few pieces of advice that I go to when I need perspective.

The first was my high school motto: ‘Levavi oculos’, which roughly means ‘lift up thine eyes’. I have referred to this many times, when I have got too caught up in details or in negative consequences and habits. It helps me literally look up, away, out of the problem, and change perspective. It reminds me that I am in control of how I see a situation and that I can rise above it if I choose to.

A second important phrase is ‘The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek’. I cannot count how many times I have achieved something important by jumping over my own shadow and entering that cave. I always think, if I don’t go in, how will I ever change and improve? Fortune favours the bold and being brave despite my fear has taught me a lot.

If I could talk to my high school self, I would remind her of these phrases and I would also tell her to give herself a break. Go outside and enjoy the time she has. Love herself. Don’t stress the small stuff.

Which countries have you lived in?

I was born by the sea in England and have lived in Switzerland, where I finished high school, Mexico where I studied at university, Austria where I had my two children, and Germany. I seem to collect languages as I go, although they are slowly becoming unused fossils that I carry around with me!

Name something that has changed your life.

There have been several things that have totally changed my life. The first was having children. It is an honour to have the opportunity to be so closely entwined in someone’s life and also a challenge to be responsible for other little lives. Since they were born I often feel like my heart is outside my body, wandering around and stamping in puddles.

It is also a hugely enterprising experience. When else do you have to answer fundamental questions about life such as ‘what is stronger, the sun or gravity?’ whilst navigating commuter traffic and helping keep a song about hippos going?

The second life altering choice was to go vegetarian, and later to go vegan. I felt honest for the first time and I have not looked back on eating meat.

Do you remember the exact moment you decided to become a teacher?

I was given a blackboard when I was six. I realised that a large portion of my soft toy collection was illiterate. Things had to change. The rest is history.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The students. They never cease to amaze.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

I cannot answer this question easily as I am an English teacher and there are too many. However, I have narrowed it down to two.

As a child, and still now at times, I liked Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House on the Prairie. I loved reading about a family of pioneers and how they constructed a life for themselves in the middle of nowhere. This was before I knew more about the history of America and the role Europeans settlers played.

I liked Laura because (blush) she had a temper that she struggled with and she was good at reading and loved nature. She was more brave than her siblings and things seemed to come naturally to her.

I am testing the limits of this question with Laura, as technically she is not fictional!

In that same vein, I was deeply impressed by the autobiography Educated. Tara Westover had the strength to scrutinize the values that had been impressed upon her as a child. She unpicked them and came out stronger. It is an outstanding autobiography.

I also love the character of Cordelia in Shakespeare’s King Lear. She was the king’s youngest daughter. I felt she had deep conviction in her beliefs. She had the strength to dance to the beat of her own heart, withstanding what others demanded of her, demands which she knew were fundamentally wrong. And she made so little fuss about it.

It is amazing how often these fairy tale-like psychological situations manifest themselves in real life and I always hoped that I would have the courage she demonstrated to stand her ground for what she knew was right.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Playing with my children, writing, being around animals, drawing, running, reading, singing, CrossFit and more running.

If you had to live somewhere for a gap year, where would it be and why?

India. I have always wanted to visit. My dad travelled there a lot when I was younger, for months at a time. I received long accounts of his travels on blue airmail paper in the post, and once he brought me back an elephant.

I find the stories I hear about it and photos I have seen so inspiring.

If you could choose one song to play every time you walked into a room for the rest of your life, what song would you choose and why?

Probably Toploader’s Dancing in the Moonlight. It has such a joyful energy to it. Or Travis’  Flowers in the Window. Or when I have to do a pile of marking, Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries…