Photo credit: Mat Wright.
The British Council’s Schools Exchange Programme provides schools and colleges in the UK the opportunity to connect with schools abroad and enhance both student and teacher development.
At the end of 2014 the British Council launched a campaign calling on schools to bring back overseas exchange trips in order to encourage more children to study languages and gain international experience.
As well as developing foreign language skills, a school exchange can also increase students’ cultural awareness, as well as give an insight into what it is like to live in another country.
Here, School Travel Organiser finds out more about an exchange between two specialist colleges for visually impaired students in the UK and France.
The exchange between the Royal National College for the Blind (RNC) and Cité Scolaire René Pellet (CSRP) funded by the Charles de Gaulle and Lefèvre Trust allowed a group of blind, partially sighted and sighted students to travel abroad and meet their peers from their international partner college.
Despite having varied language skills the students were all able to communicate with each other and share their experiences in a mixture of French and English.
Finding out that you can communicate with other young people from other countries – without having perfect grammar – can be a very liberating experience.
Before the trip to Lyon, Jenny Louloudis from the RNC, who was studying NVQ Level 1 French at the time, was worried that she might not be understood in France. However, once she arrived she gained confidence and enjoyed having conversations in French and meeting locals.
“Most people were patient when I was explaining things and didn’t mind if I got a few words out of place,” Louloudis said.
French teacher Claire Lewin also noticed the benefits of the UK and French students socialising together: “We were invited to have French food with local families in their homes which gave students more opportunities to talk more intimately and to learn about French culture first-hand.”
Photo credit: Mat Wright.
More than a language trip
The exchanges between the RNC and CSRP are between whole colleges, not just language departments.
Recently, BTEC Business Level 3 students at RNC had an opportunity to work closely with the visiting French students on employment skills. They prepared job descriptions for work placements, and asked the French students to go through a selection process with written applications and face-to-face interviews.
“As some of the French students had limited levels of English, our students concentrated on making their speech and questions very clear so they could be understood,” Lewin said. “Tailoring their communication style to non-native speakers of English was a challenge, but a positive experience for them.”
The French students were also keen to participate and became more confident in their own abilities when they were able to communicate with English ‘employers’ without the safety net of a teacher.
“Taking part in an exchange really brings classroom learning to life. By experiencing daily life from the perspective of a peer in another country, our students have become more understanding and tolerant,” Lewin said.
A former student, who will be returning during the next visit to France as a volunteer added: “I believe that this exchange made me who I am today in a subtle but powerful way.
“I was able to talk to others with the same condition as me in a different language. I wasn’t ‘the lone blind kid’ anymore. I realised I could travel abroad without much help. For the first time ever, I could look in the mirror (well, sort of) and say I’m proud to be who I am, ‘je suis fière de moi.”
How you can take part
For those considering a partnership/exchange with a school in France and/or Germany funding of up to £5,000 is available to support reciprocal visits and joint project work.
Informal virtual partnerships are also available, where students can connect with pupils from other schools via video link.