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Foreign exchange soars

- We are the world: campus bonhomie beyond borders

Kunming in the first week of May, Cuxhaven in the second, Aalen in June and Herefordshire in October. Students from city schools are going places, literally.

A bunch of students from St. James’ School and Ballygunge Shiksha Sadan (BSS) are just back after a nine-day exchange programme with Qinglai School in Kunming while 20 students from Sushila Birla Girls’ School and Birla High School for Boys are spending a fortnight at Amandus-Abendroth-Gymnasium in Cuxhaven, Germany.

From attending classes and laboratories to making presentations and putting up performances to showcase Indian culture as well as learning about the host nation and its people, exchange tours are a busy time for students.

Sunirmal Chakravarthi, the principal of La Martiniere for Boys, calls it a “win-win situation”. “Travel is the best form of education that goes way beyond classrooms and textbooks,” he said.

Rachel Folkard and Sussie Hillard check out Indian textiles at South City International School. (Arnab Mondal)

Get set, go

When Raghav Daryanani, a Class XII student of St. James’, was packing his bags, he took with him flour and potatoes to make alu parathas for his Chinese friends. He came back with recipes for dumplings.

“Each province has its own variety of dumplings and in different shapes. I could just make the flower-shaped ones but I tasted them all,” said the son of a restaurateur, who spent hours watching Chinese videos on YouTube and even managed to pick up a few greetings before boarding the flight.

The preparations don’t end there. The BSS girls rehearsed for weeks before performing at the Kunming school. “I danced to the tune of Ami chini go chini tomare and Sohag chand bodoni. Some of my friends put up a Chinese play based on Hiuen Tsang’s travels in India,” said Samprikta Das of Class VI, the youngest member of her team.

The Heritage School students involved in project work at Whitecross Hereford High School and Specialist Sports College in UK

All in a day’s work

For Koshi Cherian and Angus Alphonso, both Class IX students of St. James’, the day began early as they had to be in school along with their buddy Wang Ching Yi, 9, at 8 sharp. The boys attended culture classes, were shown a live demonstration of a tea ceremony, picked up a few kung fu kicks and also attended lectures on ancient Chinese dynasties.

“After school, we would have dinner. Most Chinese people go dancing after dinner. They believe it helps them digest food better. So we too went dancing. We also played badminton and table tennis there,” Koshi said.

Naman Madhogaria of Birla High has been attending school in the morning and discovering the city with his German partner and his parents by the evening. “The air is very fresh here, the traffic is thin and most people ride bicycles unlike in Calcutta,” said the boy, who’s been bonding over football with his German buddies.

Ballygunge Shiksha Sadan girls in Chinese traditional wear at Stone Forest in Kunming

Early starters

British Council has been one of the pioneers of the concept, reaching out to city schools and facilitating exchange since 2004.

The Heritage School has been partnering with a college in Herefordshire, the UK, since 2007. Every year, students from the college come to Calcutta in January and students from The Heritage visit them in October.

“There had been teething problems because our students are more academically oriented and theirs is a sports college but we worked on it,” said Seema Sapru, the principal of The Heritage School, which has been involved in exchange with other countries too.

The association often goes beyond the exchange programmes, as the school found out when a student from Germany came to spend six months here. “He wanted to attend classes here and stayed with three-four families by turns,” Sapru said.

A St. James’ student bonds with children from Qinglai School in Kunming

Lakshmipat Singhania Academy has been hosting visitors from Carlo-Schmid-Gymnasium, a secondary school in Tubingen, and sending students to the German university town for six years.

For the past three years, St. Xavier’s Collegiate School boys have been engaged in an exchange of culture, knowledge and bonding with students of a Kunming school.

Students taking part in exchange programmes usually have to bear the travel expenses but some schools share the cost. Students are selected on the basis of academic performance and project work and those with knowledge of the language of the host country are given preference.

“I would much rather prefer trips where costs are covered because then I can select kids on merit and not their ability to pay,” said Anjana Saha, the principal of Mahadevi Birla World Academy, which represented India at the Shakespeare in Asia Festival presented by Shakespeare4All in Hong Kong last year.

Kaveri Dutt, the principal of Modern High School for Girls, admitted that it can leave some disappointed but added “dissemination takes place and it is not exclusive”.

German students go ethnic at Lakshmipat Singhania Academy

Books and beyond

The merits, however, far outweigh the demerits. “Young people today need to be able to understand the world they live in beyond their own countries and communities. An international dimension in the classroom will help them access more opportunities and be better informed about the world. Whether they are visiting the UK or collaborating on a project online, the benefits are for students and teachers in both countries,” said Sujata Sen, the director of British Council, eastern India.

Class I kids of Sri Sri Academy put together four storybooks with the Level I children of Windmill Primary School in Headington, the UK, as part of the British Council’s Global School Partnership.“The UK children conceived the stories and some of our students drew the illustrations. It was an enriching experience for both schools,” said Suvina Shunglu, the principal of Sri Sri Academy.

Sushila Birla girls are working on a project funded by the Bosch Foundation to make an animated movie on tigers and mussels. “They are among the most endangered species in India and Germany respectively. We started the project in June last year and in November students and teachers from Cuxhaven came to Calcutta to work on the project,” said Purnima Ravindran, the coordinator for outreach programmes at Sushila Birla.

Puravi Nath, Class X, The Heritage School, was happy to get “an introduction to life in the UK” while classmate Bratin Ghosh feels the culture education classes he attended will help him mingle if he goes there to study.

The Heritage School has worked with its partner institution in the UK on several projects on conservation of resources, women empowerment and Thames vs Hooghly. While collaborating with a German school, the Heritage students learnt how to calculate energy by burning beer. The German students, in turn, were taken to the Sunderbans to study solar energy.

The takeaways aren’t restricted to academics and cultural exchange. “Initially, the children would refuse to carry their bags but they learnt to adjust,” said principal Sapru. “On one of the early trips, we had told the UK school that some of our children were vegetarian. Once the kids reached, we realised they were vegetarian but didn’t eat vegetables!”

Students of Birla High and Sushila Birla schools with their partners from Amandus-Abendroth-Gymnasium in Cuxhaven

New bonds

Home stay with a German, Chinese, British or Irish family leads to a “deeper understanding and appreciation of culture”. Samprikta of BSS learnt about discipline on her China trip. “They are all early risers and finish breakfast at 7.30am. Dinner is served at 6.30pm,” said the Class VI student, who’s already missing her Chinese friend Isabella.

Beate Mrasek, Sushila Birla student Vanshika Bagrodia’s German host, was more than happy to host her. “It’s a good way to learnt about the culture of India and to have another child in the house,” said the mother.

Communication can be a problem at times as most Chinese students have poor English skills but the children overcame the language barrier with the help of technology.

“We would write in English and run it through Google Translate. Our Chinese friends would read it and they pass their phone to us for us to read the English translation,” smiled Raghav of St. James’.

Give some, take some

If city students come back richer from the exchange trips, students from other countries too take back with them lessons and moments to cherish.

The principal and vice-director of Qinglai School were impressed by the maths and English language laboratories at BSS. “The maths laboratory has software like the Geometer’s Sketchpad that makes learning interactive. In the language lab, children do phonetics and learn the differences between the American and British accent,” said Sunita Sen, the principal of BSS.

Six Chinese students who attended classes at Ashok Hall Girls’ Higher Secondary School last month were treated to traditional Bengali fare of “shukto, mug daal, chingri malai curry”. The home science students made tossed vegetables, spaghetti and pudding for them,” said Manjir Ghosh, the principal of the school. The visitors learnt a few throwball moves and on Rabindra Jayanti, they sang Momo chitte niti nritye.

German students hosted by Lakshmipat Singhania Academy last year had soaked in the culture and flavours of the city, even catching an India-Pakistan cricket match at the Eden Gardens.

Lesson for everyone

Teachers too benefit from the exchange of ideas. Several teachers from the US spent nine months in city schools as part of a USIS programme this year. Rachel Marie Glogowski organised a Halloween party for children at Dolna Day School while Christine Zographia Purdy encouraged her students at St. John’s Diocesan Girls’ Higher Secondary School to read.

“Exchange of culture and ideas... helps strengthen English language instruction, while providing cultural insights,” said Joanne Joria, the director of the American Center.

Sometimes, partner schools borrow ideas. Rachel Folkard and Susie Hillard, teachers at Sir John Lillie Primary School in London, loved the concept of nature clubs during their visit to South City International School in April. “It’s a great way to promote wildlife and nature conservation. I will start a nature club when I go back,” Rachel said.

Jhinuk Mazumdar and Showli Chakraborty

How do you think exchange programmes benefit students? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com