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Why schools must not give up on foreign exchange trips

In a German airport, Andrew was stuck in the lift as the final call came for the flight back to the UK. It was a self-inflicted situation by the Year 11 pupil and you would have thought that his teacher would have sworn to never again run a foreign exchange trip as he watched the rest of the class troop on to the plane.

But Simon Ravenhall, head of modern languages at Yarm School in Stockton-on-Tees, would never dream of ending the exchange visits for his French and German students. Far from becoming one of the 61 per cent of schools apparently no longer running such trips, he makes a plea in the 12 December issue of TES for more schools to organise exchanges.

“Even after 22 years as a modern languages teacher, those first few moments of a school exchange still have the same impact for me,” he writes. “I strongly believe in the linguistic and cultural value of exchanges.”

He explains that the high points can be multiple.

“I felt a particularly strong sense of ‘this is what it’s all about’ when I watched one of my sixth-form students – on his fifth consecutive French exchange – interpret for the mayor of Lisieux as we were formally welcomed in a ceremony at the town hall. Just as gratifying are the long-term friendships forged and pupils’ decisions to study a language at A-level after an inspirational trip. In fact, every 'thank you' from a child, parent and teacher makes it worthwhile.”

He is not claiming that the trips are easy to arrange – far from it. But in the article he offers tips on how to make things run smoothly that he hopes will encourage more schools to try an exchange. Below are three of them.

Do your research on pairings
Get pupils to fill out a questionnaire to facilitate the pairing process. The challenges are numerous:

  • There is always a huge disparity between the numbers of male and female participants from each school. So start with the pupils who are not happy to be paired with someone of the opposite sex.
  • Try to match up smoking or smoking-tolerant households.
  • Animal allergies are always problematic, so make sure that affected individuals are placed in pet-free environments.
  • Do your best to match similar interests and hobbies. You need to provide the best possible conditions for success.

Be prepared for anything
Unfortunately, organising the exchange is not the end of the work because it is quite remarkable what can happen when the trip is under way. I have dealt with homesickness, broken limbs, numerous kinds of illness, food poisoning, appendicitis, and mass sea sickness on a particularly stormy ferry crossing. I even had to have someone repatriated in a medical emergency.

Watch your words
One last piece of advice: never tell a colleague who is about to set off on an exchange to “enjoy their holiday”. You may find that the response is less than polite.

Read the full article in the 12 December edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents

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