Why cultural exchanges are win-wins

Multicultural ExchangesThe OE is something of a New Zealand institution and nowadays many high school students are getting ahead of the trend

and heading overseas on a cultural exchange.

Cultural exchanges range from a basic introduction to a country that lasts just a few weeks, through to full year long trips, where students live, study and travel within their host country.

Not only for those studying languages – although this can help – exchanges provide students with the opportunity to learn in a way that is not always possible in the classroom.

Ian Lambert, co-ordinator of outbound exchange programmes at the New Zealand Institute of International Understanding says when immersed in a foreign family and school environment, students have to use their language skills and cultural understanding all of the time.

“They live the language and culture rather than studying it. This makes the link between learning and doing far more direct than in a classroom, and learning accelerates hugely as a result.

“Students get instant feedback about their competence and progress which encourages them to improve rapidly in understanding and speaking.”

He adds most students return at least reasonably fluent in a new language and as more rounded individuals. “They may lack the formal learning that goes with a language degree, but they are sometimes in advance of graduates in their ability to communicate verbally,” he says.

“Students usually come home significantly more independent, mature and focused on realistic goals and how to achieve them. This can’t be achieved by sitting in a classroom no matter how good the teacher or learning environment is.”

Richard Ellis, managing director of World Youth Services, agrees and says it is the family experience overseas that enriches a student’s understanding of the culture they are in.

“An exchange student isn’t just learning about another culture, but is also absorbing the culture through the family experience in the destination country,” he says. “A good definition of culture could be ‘the way things are done around here’. It is interesting that returning exchangees also claim they have learned so much about themselves, their families, and our Kiwi culture. By stepping outside and looking back they get a clearer picture of ‘how things are done around here.’ Also, by full immersion in another tongue, Kiwis claim to have a much greater appreciation and understanding of the English language.”

But it’s not only the students heading overseas that benefit, schools that offer to host exchange students from around the world also report benefiting from the exchange of cultures.

“Schools are vastly enriched by the presence of students from another culture who are highly motivated to make friends, to learn and to share,” says Lambert.

“Because exchange students are selected for their social skills as well as their academic ability, they are more likely than feepaying students to fit well into a school’s environment and to be enjoyable for schools and families to host.”

Ellis says exchange students are ambassadors for their countries. “Kiwi schools that allow exchangees to become involved in leadership in their school, in any way, benefit from another way of ‘doing things’,” he says.

“Multi-cultural and multi-lingual enrichment should follow from a school having exchange students on the roll.”

Along with the benefits of actually going overseas on an exchange, students also benefit from the preparation prior to going. Not all families can afford to send students on exchanges so fundraising and grant applications are often an integral part of the preparation.

“Students vary greatly in the way they pay for their exchanges,” says Lambert. “We prefer students to have some financial input even if it is payback in kind to their parents. Occasionally students insist on paying for everything themselves, although many are supported by community organisations and sometimes the extended family helps with fundraising activities.”

Ellis reveals there are no costs to a school regarding an outbound student, except for the fact that there will be one less student on the roll.

“The benefit to a NZ school accepting an exchange student is related to the roll issue, and is like accepting a Kiwi student regarding funding. The school’s Operational Grant funding and teacher entitlement is impacted,” he explains.

“The cost to a student and their family for an exchange depends on the length of exchange and destination – and the exchange programme organisation they choose as their conduit to the exchange,” says Ellis.

“We have students currently in Japan who worked for their entire exchange cost with part-time and holiday jobs. Cost should never be the deciding factor in chasing the dream.”

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