Trip to England
The Real Reasons
To most, the idea of taking a mixed batch of Greek teenagers to another country (be it under the auspices of another organisation) would fill them with horror. “What if something goes wrong?” they would say; “What if they get homesick?”, “Suppose they don’t like the food?” I must admit I had my moments of doubt but my main concern was that the experience be a positive one.
Participating in an organised programme, such as the one at Dean Close School, Cheltenham, can have its pitfalls mainly that each child is coming with his/her expectations of what it will be like. More often than not, these are based on their own experiences of school trips which tend to be chaotic, to say the least. So when our students had to fit into a strict schedule with more rules than at school, this was bound to cause some problems. But a programme with a large number of children from all over the world cannot function without rules, nor can their safety be guaranteed. On the whole, after the first couple of days, they got into the routine and adapted to the situation. Learning experience number one.
The next hurdle to overcome was the tendency to be cliquey. It’s only natural for young people in an “alien” environment, surrounded by about 200 youngsters from other countries, to prefer the familiar faces. However, this would defeat the object of them being on the course as they would speak very little English. Fortunately, the lessons and activities are designed in such a way that the different nationalities had no choice but to interact with each other, “Quiz Night”, for example, was a team event and our students were all on different teams. To win a point, the members of the team had to collaborate .The ice was broken. Barriers began to disintegrate and opportunities to speak English in a real situation rather than an artificial one, contrived in a classroom, began to take place. Learning experience number two.
But it wasn’t until the final day that I really got an insight into the most important aspect of this programme. Gathered in the big dining hall on the last evening, 200 teenagers from all over Europe, Asia and even South America intermingled, exchanging email addresses and Facebook names with promises to keep in touch. Suddenly, there was a moment of realisation that in a short space of time these faces had indeed become familiar, friendships had been made, and in a few hours they would all be flying back to different corners of the globe. What better way to fully understand that our own village, town or nation is just a tiny part of a much larger and diverse world. But, paradoxically, it is this diversity, these differences between races, cultures and religions which so often trigger conflict. But it is also these barriers which the younger generation should be seeking to overcome if they are to function effectively in the wider world where ingrained attitudes about these issues can only be obstacles. By broadening their experience of the world and other nationalities they are opening their eyes and their minds to far greater opportunities.
Thus, learning experience number three far outweighs any “educational” benefits in the narrow sense of the word. It’s not specifically the lessons, the sights, the English, but the combination of factors which extend the boundaries of their narrow existence to encompass a more varied and stimulating world.