Cleaning boots is all in a day's work for these globe-trotters

13th August 2010 at 01:00
Trinity Academy's work experience and other projects send pupils far afield

One year a girl delivered a cow on a Dutch farm and it was named Rosie after her; another year a boy got a placement at Germany's Werder Bremen Football Club, cleaning the boots.

The international work experience programme has been running at Trinity Academy in Edinburgh for over a decade. Every November, 50 senior pupils travel to Germany, Sweden or Holland to spend a week living with a local family and working in a field they think they might be keen to enter.

In March, the Scottish pupils play host. Foreign students have had placements everywhere, from the Shortbread House of Edinburgh (which does exactly what it says on the tartan tin) to the offices of politicians. This year they shadowed Labour and Conservative MPs as they prepared for the general election.

The European work experience takes place in S5 and S6, and pupils are able to apply both years if they wish. But it is far from their only opportunity to travel abroad.

Trinity is the only Scottish school to take part in the Pan European Education Project (PEEP), which started after the fall of communism in Europe to promote intercultural understanding and cooperation.

Last year, five Advanced Higher English pupils went to Moscow to join forces with students from Holland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria and Russia. This year's meeting will be held in Finland, and senior pupils with a passion and talent for science will be attending, as the topic up for discussion is forestry - last year's was "culture and antiquities".

Lewis Scott, who was until recently school captain at Trinity, has taken up every international opportunity the school has had to offer - a total of eight trips. In S1 he went skiing in France and on the French languages exchange; in S2 he went on the French activity holiday; in S3 he went skiing with the school in Colorado; in S4 there was a rugby exchange with Cranbrook School in England; in S5 he did work experience in Germany and in S6 in Holland; this summer he has gone to South Africa on the school's rugby and hockey tour.

In 2005, Trinity Academy became the first Scottish secondary to be awarded international school status by the British Council.

But you feel a pang for Trinity parents. With two children still at the school, Lewis's mum jokes that she never stops writing cheques to Trinity Academy, he confides. The rugby trip is costing each of the 52 pupils pound;1,955.

So what do the pupils gain from all this globe-trotting? When you ask them, CVs and Ucas forms come up a lot. That this should be at the forefront of their minds is doubtless indicative of the tough competition academic pupils now face when it comes to securing university places. But clearly there is more to international education than that, and they know it.

Lewis says: "When I was in Holland, I was teaching Dutch kids to play rugby who were my age and slightly older. They had never played before and it was quite a big challenge. I gained confidence from that."

Alice Forbes and Hannah Dutton have also just finished S6. They have both completed work experience in Europe and went to Moscow in November last year for PEEP. It was an "amazing experience", they say.

The girls both stayed with families from a Russian Orthodox school in the centre of Moscow. They visited the Moscow State Circus, where they were appalled at the treatment of the animals; met the granddaughter of the Russian prime minister during Lenin's time; and they visited the British Embassy, which has helped them both decide on their future career paths.

"It made me interested in studying politics at university and maybe going into foreign affairs," says Alice.

It was also relevant for Hannah: "I'm going on to study international relations, so obviously visiting the embassy was pretty perfect."

Lisa Rush and David Futcher, meanwhile, carried out work experience in Sweden last year. The pair, who enter S6 next week, agree Sweden is probably unlike anywhere else in the world. It's certainly very different from Britain, they both stress.

"Everyone is tanned and healthy," says Lisa. "They eat better and walk places."

The Swedish school with which Trinity is paired has a focus on sport. David, who appears to model his style on Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, is "into music and stuff" and does not consider himself sporty, but being in close quarters with a fitness fanatic has broadened his horizons.

"I managed to get on with the boy I was staying with, even though he wasn't a person I would ever have thought I'd have talked to."

While Lisa and David were in Sweden, Emma Masses-Strang, Nicola Murray and Amy Pringle were taking up the chance of work experience in Germany.

Emma, who is interested in opening her own child-care centre, worked in a nursery with three to five-year-olds and was inspired by what she saw there.

"They have less toys and those they do use are things like building blocks, which are a lot more creative than the plastic stuff we tend to have. Their garden was amazing too, with buses and ships for the children to climb on."

Alexa Brain, head of curriculum support, says: "This is not just a school trip to the likes of Disney World - the pupils are experiencing a culture and finding their way about. Their maturity increases, they gain confidence and learn how to handle themselves in new situations."

emma.seith@tes.co.uk.

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