According to the UN Secretary-General’s Global Initiative on Education, “It is not enough for education to produce individuals who can read, write and count. Education must be transformative and bring shared values to life. It must cultivate an active care for the world and for those with whom we share it.” This five-year initiative was launched in 2012 with the goal of accelerating progress towards the Education for All goals and the education-related Millennium Development Goals. The Initiative further claims that the goal of education “requires transforming the way people think and act.” http://www.globaleducationfirst.org/220.htm#sthash.9k2j6stG.dpuf
Late last week, as we approached our school’s 30th anniversary on All Saints Day, we had the pleasure of welcoming 11 Ecuadorian exchange students from Colegio Menor de San Francisco de Quito, our partner school in Cumbaya, Ecuador. This is the fifth group of students we have had come to our school since the program started in 2011. Each year I am amazed at the “magic” that surrounds this program – it is simply a joy to see children who have never met each other before bond with one another in such genuine ways.
I can’t help but imagine whether the founding parents out our original 16 preschool students back in 1985 could ever have dreamed that in only 30 years their fledgling school would go through the eighth grade and would be hosting an international student exchange program!
The benefits of a global exchange program are many. For starters, students develop an acceptance, understanding and appreciation of other cultures in a very personal way. Other benefits include:
- Practice or acquisition of skills in a second language
- Analytical and problem-solving skills
- Ability to see things from difference perspectives
- Self-confidence and self-esteem
- A willingness to tackle new challenges
- Sense of accomplishment
- Negotiating group dynamics
I asked our Eighth Graders – both our US citizens and our visiting Ecuadorians – to share their thoughts on the benefits of our program.
Here are a few of the things they had to say:
- We are the same even if we have different cultures, language and come from a different region of the world.
- We have the chance to meet new cultures and friends, and to gain confidence…to be brave.
- We get to experience what other cultures do, think and believe…we get to see a side of the world’s humanity that is new for us.
- The long term change is that people around the world are really a like and that you should love…this also teaches you how to be a world citizen and adapt quickly.
- If every student did this, they would totally look at the world differently.
Felipe Vacas, the Upper School Student Life Coordinator at Colegio Menor, and the chaperone who is accompanying the students on this trip, has this to say about the program, “Being an active part of an exchange program such as this one, between All Saints in Hoboken and Menor in Ecuador, has been a wonderful experience. Giving the students the chance to experience living abroad for a few days, to see them managing themselves and learning from another culture is just priceless. I cannot be thankful enough for having this learning opportunity available for our students. I truly believe that real learning comes from unforgettable experiences such as this one, in which our students not only visit another country, but also get to become “siblings” of other teenagers and find out a little bit more about who they are and what they are capable of. This has become the most popular exchange program we offer at Menor. We are now sibling schools, it is in our hands to take advantage of this situation the best we can.”
These comments and others underscore the richness of a global exchange experience, and certainly seem to achieve the UN’s goal of “transforming the way people think and act.” As one of our Ecuadorian guests shared, “If every single student on earth experienced the things we are, people would be accepted just as they are into our society. There would not be any gender inequality or cultural excluding.” By engaging with newfound friends from a faraway place, our students are receiving the most powerful life lesson of all – they are learning about our shared humanity. These lessons cannot be learned from a book or a piece of literature, no matter how rich or compelling. Perhaps one of the students truly said it best: “The most powerful effect is that we can value our unique cultures while being reminded that when it all comes down to it, we are not as different as we might think - we’re all human.”