Their passage to India

A summer of heat, humidity and pump-manufacturing? Two Oxfordshire girls said yes. Clare Dean reports

When their thoughts turned to work experience, Gillian Shevlin and Sarah Wrigley were ambitious. Not for them placements in primary schools, with the police, hairdressers or local newspapers. Their horizons were wider.

The would-be businesswomen had their sights on a posting not just outside their home county of Oxfordshire, but outside their continent.

So while their Year 11 classmates at Our Lady's Convent senior school in Abingdon contented themselves with jobs close to home, they flew thousands of miles to Maharashtra in southern India, braving the mosquitoes and the humidity, with temperatures consistently in the 30s.

There they worked and stayed at Kirloskarvadi, the only fully integrated, all-under-one-roof pump-manufacturing plant in India. The mornings of their two-week placement were taken up with looking around various aspects of the plant, with the afternoons and evenings taken up with sightseeing and visiting Hindu temples.

Then there were the two-hour discussions before dinner explaining convent education and the daunting hour-long speech to 50 17-year-olds (mainly boys) and 10 teachers on their thoughts about India and the English education system.

"It was certainly confidence-building," said Gillian. "The thought of having to do our talk was quite intimidating. It was a scary experience - we had to speak in pidgin English!

"I am a Roman Catholic and I found the people were much more devoted than us. I just wasn't prepared to see people bend down and kiss the floor in the temples."

"We learned not only about how businesses are run in less advanced countries, " said Sarah "but how to deal with different people and cultures. We had to do things their way. We didn't wear short skirts."

Gillian and Sarah, both 16, are the first pupils from the all-girls school to have completed work experience outside Britain, and Alison Earl, their careers adviser, said: "We supported it because we thought it was a splendid opportunity. They are both interested in business management. We are in a global economy, they are going to be dealing with national companies in due course. This was not just a work experience, but a life experience."

The girls paid for their own flights, stayed with the factory manager and his family. The company was not completely unknown to them - Gillian's father deals with the firm and has himself visited the plant.

Kirloskarvadi is a self-contained "city" with school, canteen, hospital, golf course, swimming pool and air port, catering for 2,500 people who live and work there for an average wage of Pounds 20 a month.

Outside the walls of the complex, which is guarded, is a different world.

"There are slums," said Gillian. "Bamboo-built buildings. The people who work there see themselves as very privileged."

Every day the 500 pupils aged from kindergarten to 17 who attend Kirloskarvadi's school stand in lines, in height order, praying before saluting the school.

Something that Glynne Butt, head of Our Lady's Convent senior school, found rather appealing.

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