Today I'm very happy to be able to feature a guest post from fellow language tutor Sally Holmwood. I'm a German who was mad about Britain and English learning as a teenager, Sally is a Brit who's mad about German and Germany! Only good things can come from this. She's writing about the topic of foreign exchanges - find out how they changed her life!
Safety first...sanity second?
Brits have a worldwide reputation for being the kings of Health and Safety but this time they may have taken things a step too far! I recently came across articles by both the Daily Mail and BBC, explaining a Welsh Council’s decision to halt exchanges to foreign towns amid safety concerns.
Any adult knows that there is a risk involved in anything we do. It seems a great shame, however, to withdraw such a great opportunity from pupils without first exploring all possible avenues of making it the safest experience it could be.
The linguistic and motivational benefits of spending time in a native setting are crystal clear, as recent Fluent blog guest Mickey Mangan demonstrated so beautifully. And school exchanges have long contributed to making language learning greater for students from anywhere.
Take my own story, for example…
At 12 years old, I wrote a letter in very basic German to be sent, along with those of my classmates, to a school in the Sauerland. We’d only recently begun learning German and such interaction was seen as a valuable part of the learning experience. Our school had a long-standing link with the St. Ursula Gymnasium and ran a biannual exchange programme. A few years, and several letters, later and my pen-friend, who had initially chosen to write to me because I had a guinea pig, was standing infront of me with her family, ready to take me back to Germany for two weeks!
In the mid-90s, we had two 10 day stays at each others’ places, and I loved every minute. I was a mood board pioneer and glued all kinds of weird and wonderful mementoes into a diary – receipts, tickets and even chocolate wrappers found their way in, much to the amusement of my friends. We went on several guided tours, and I became so keen to hear and speak German that I asked my teacher to allow me to walk around with the German group!
Since those school days, I have been back to my “German home” of Neheim so often in the last 20 years that I now know my way around. In some of my favourite shops, assistants know me by name. I have fond memories of a Junggesellinnenabschied (hen night) with all its traditions and would urge any visitor to experience the town’s centuries-old Jägerfest celebration to experience local culture at its best.
Exchanges are a challenge with huge benefits
Diversity Abroad, a leading US website dedicated to international mobility, cites so many benefits to taking part in an exchange programme of any description – increased self-confidence, maturity, improved problem-solving skills, and a greater understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses among them.
Removing yourself from your comfort zone and actively embracing an environment that boasts new traditions will inevitably be difficult and intensely challenging. But to be part of such an experience is incredibly character-building. And there is, of course, the added bonus that you return home at the end of your stay with a host of new life-long foreign friends.
About Sally Holmwood
Sally lives and works in West Sussex, England. She splits her working week between individuals of all ages with special needs, and languages (specifically German and French). Sally loves to make time to travel the world when she's not working - sometimes Europe, sometimes even further afield! Furthermore, she is a big fan of great television: Sherlock, Bones, The Big Bang Theory and Doctor Who.