International travel has not been easy lately, between Icelandic volcanoes and BA strikes. So it is impressive that P7 children at Balornock Primary in Glasgow made it over this summer to visit their partner school in Barcelona.
The visit was originally planned to coincide with La Diada de Sant Jordi (the St George's Day Festival), but cancelled due to the ash. When the children eventually reached their destination, they were each given a rose and bookmark (a Catalan tradition) by their Catalan friends.
For 10-year-old Lauren Fox, it awakened in her an ambition to travel. She says: "It was the first time I had been to Spain and it was absolutely fantastic, a great experience. It is now my dream to find out about lots of other countries."
The Barcelona trip is just the latest in a long list of international projects at Balornock Primary, which has seen most classes partnered up with at least one school abroad and led to it being made an International School of Excellence in 2007.
Depute headteacher Mairi Campbell says: "In 2002 we started to get Kosovan children coming to the school. Some of our pupils had heard negative comments from parents and were repeating them. For a lot of our children, going into Glasgow is unusual, so we decided to put an international element into the curriculum."
The first project was East West, a British Council initiative which came from the Good Friday Agreement, where British schools linked with Irish ones.
"It was great as an introduction, as there was no problem with the languages," says Mrs Campbell. "We linked with a Sligo school, and used the opportunity to address sectarianism. We made newspapers - all about `me', `my area', `my school' - and sent them to Ireland. We took 28 senior pupils to Donegal for the week and the Sligo kids came for the day. Before we went, the kids had learnt Irish dancing, so when we visited their school we had a ceilidh."
From then on, projects moved further afield as the school became involved in the British Council Comenius scheme. "The next year, we grouped with four other schools in Germany, Spain, Slovakia and Italy. The project was called `You Plus Me Equals Us'," says Mrs Campbell. "We looked at the local community, Scotland and then our place in Scotland. We shared this information with the other schools by post and email, and made a book about Sammy the Snail who visited the five countries. Each school was sent a copy."
Another Comenius project was based on festivals, which the P76 class worked on with a school in Hanover and in Barcelona. "We held a Burns Festival and made a DVD of a Burns assembly in the school. We filmed two Scottish dances and explained the steps. We also translated some Scottish songs into English. Glasgow Caledonian University students helped the pupils translate a Catalan story, La Garsa de Sant Feliu, into English."
The latest adventure involves working with a school in Ohio in the United States. Mrs Campbell explains: "We have an allotment and so we found a school in Ohio which had a garden in the school and asked them if we could swap information. Over the past two years P3, 4 and 6 have been growing the same things and we have been emailing and taking pictures. We measure the plants regularly, take the temperature, record the weather, and draw pictures of how we have been getting on. Then we swap notes and exchange information and pictures."
From an initial idea eight years ago, international education has spread, so that now nearly every class has some involvement in international education. Mrs Campbell says: "If they are writing to a penpal, they are writing for a reason, and they want to do it. They want to improve their work and their presentation is infinitely better. They have a lot more drive. When they receive pictures from the other schools with their work up on the walls, it enthuses them.
"No school ignores the world, but we take it a stage further - and the pupils' knowledge of their own neighbourhood, city and country has improved. It is not about thinking anywhere is better. It is about finding out about other places. We don't live in isolation. We are doing a disservice to the child if we don't teach them about the world."