What happens when a Russian violinist, Brazilian wildlife photographer and a math expert from Ludhiana collide at a student exchange destination? They have a ball of a time, says Gauri Rane.
A stint in a foreign country, away from home, can’t be measured in days alone. You will be gone for say six months to a year, but the experience will leave indelible imprints on you for the rest of your life.
“A student Exchange Porgramme (SEP) provides you with an opportunity many may crave for but can’t have,” says Priyanka Rathod, who went on a Rotary exchange programme to US. “You return rich in knowledge, more mature and with a better understanding of a different culture.”
SEP is not a means to get away from the stressful world of academics, as many think. It is a life enriching experience; an adventure that alters your life. Such programmes bring out your innate talent, hone leadership skills and prepare you to contribute to the world community.
As awareness about the benefits of SEP dawns, more and more students seek to embark on this exciting journey. “Youngsters are looking at enhancing their resumes, whether it is for a job application or overseas education. SEP broadens their thought process and gives them the required international exposure, which has become an essential ingredient of an individual’s personality,” says Krupa Kapadia, vice president, marketing AIESEC, India. AIESEC is a student run organisation that facilitates student exchange in 113 countries across the world.
Every organisation that promotes or facilitates SEP has a mission to fulfill. For AFS, which was created in 1914 post World War II, the essence lies in the belief that the youth must build bridges of understanding and mutual respect between countries and cultures around the world. “We believe that today’s youth will be tomorrow’s leaders and they are among the best “bridge builders” between nations,” says Divya Arora, national director, AFS India.
Like AIESEC and AFS, there are many professional set ups that aid students in such activities. Pratik Gandhi, co-founder, Edutrotters, started his venture to provide professional and business internships with the objective of building skill and enhancing student mobility. “Such activities help one jumpstart his/ her career. You are able to make friends and build networks in the industry of your choice,” he says.
Leaving the comfort of your home to live elsewhere is not easy. You got to manage finances, cook, travel in local transport, and face weather conditions that may dampen the most cheerful of the lot.
Experts say that challenges lie for both, Indian as well as international students. “Experiencing a new culture requires certain adjustment,” Kapadia points out. One has to understand it at a deeper level to have a better perspective. “Foreign students often try to explore the deeper aspects of culture. For e.g. they want to understand why Indian women wear bindi or why Indians touch elder’s feet,” explains Arora.
Challenges are different for those who visit countries on internship programs. “An Indian intern would face regular challenges like language/ accent, food habits and mannerisms, homesickness etc. An international intern visiting India faces all this and much more. Everyone wants to help them and that is a huge hurdle,” says Gandhi.
While the mindset regarding SEP is fast changing, Indian parents still tread the track with caution. Safety of their teenager is the prime concern. Who will be the host family? In which city/ state will my child stay? What will happen if my child falls sick, are some of the common queries. “As an organisation that promotes intercultural diversity, it is our duty to assure parents that their wards will be taken care of,” observes Arora.
AFS,(http://www.afs.org.in/afs-india/) is a ‘stay and study’ programme where you live with a host family, experiencing a life that is in many ways, different from your own.
EDUTROTTERS (http://www.edutrotters.com) offers professional and business internships with intent to develop skills and student mobility.
AIESEC (http://www.aiesec.in/) is an intense learning experience that nurtures leaders who are entrepreneurial, culturally sensitive and socially responsible.
Ontario-Maharashtra-Goa programme(http://www.ouinternational.ca/ontariomaharashtra-goa) is for Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral levels students in all disciplines and subjects offered at partner universities in Ontario.
Rotary International (www.rotary.org) nurtures a culture of service to humanity.
International Student Exchange Programme (www.isep.org) is an indepth learning experience through experiential programmes.
An exchange programme is an life altering experience, says architecture student and AFS returnee Dushyant Karnik
“I went on the AFS – Youth Exchange and Study (YES) programme to United States of America in 2007. During the programme, which is of 11 months duration, I was hosted by a family from Buffalo, New York. The YES programme is for students studying at the secondary school level. As I was 16, I had to take the junior year in high school, which is equivalent to class 11 at an Indian academic institution. The US education system offers a variety of subjects to choose from and I thought I should go for subjects that are not offered back home. Hence I chose languages, maths, drama, wood workshops and software.
It is natural that to have a perception about people who we don’t know, about their culture, their customs. We are exposed to stereotypes about different countries every day. Trust me, the 11 months of YES programme proved most of these stereotypes wrong. You won’t realise this unless you have a firsthand experience.
Being the youth cultural ambassador of India to US it was my duty to share our culture and traditions with my host family and, at the same time learn and understand various cultural aspects of my host country. There are many things I learnt during my stay with the host family, their religious beliefs, festivals, family bonding etc. It made me realise that though there is a different system at work when it comes to academics, when it comes to family, it is similar to Indian households.
The exchange program has been a life changing experience for me, it gave me independence and an ability to learn new things and experience life in a different country.
Currently I am pursing architecture, and also volunteer with AFS intercultural programmes. During my exchange year I evolved as a completely different person, my perspective towards the world and the people changed completely, my thinking processes have evolved and I have become more responsible as an individual. Moreover, now I have an aim to achieve in life.
As told to Gauri Rane