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International exchanges provide rich learning experiences for students

THE 12 Gippsland Grammar students who embarked on an international exchange over the 2022/23 summer break have returned to school for Term 1 with memories and experiences that will last a lifetime.

In December seven students (India Boag, Edward Courtier, Alanna Magee, Georgia Steel, Zara Tacey, Kiera Walpole and Tali Oates) flew to Caen in northwestern France where they spent seven weeks over Christmas living with French families and attending classes at Gippsland Grammar’s sister school, Lycée Jeanne d’Arc.

At the same time five students (Anais Hancock, Debbie Husodo, Samithri Kaluarachchi, Ellen Roberts and Emily Thai) flew to Japan where they are also lived with a Japanese family and attended classes at Gippsland Grammar’s sister school, the Hikarigaoka Girls High School.

The students’ experiences included getting involved in the nuances of family life with their host families, attending school and taking classes in another language, experiencing a white Christmas and sightseeing attractions including the Eiffel Tower, the Palace of Versailles and Euro Disney.

Gippsland Grammar’s Head of Languages Sonia Duggan said taking part in an international exchange was an amazing opportunity for the students, particularly as these two trips signaled the return of Gippsland Grammar’s international exchange program following a pandemic-induced two-year hiatus.

‘As a language teacher, it is wonderful to hear about our students’ experience overseas," Mrs Duggan said. "There is a greater connection between ourselves and our students as they better understand our culture; their oral and aural skills are improved and their new found confidence in their language skills transfers in the classroom."

Gippsland Grammar School Captain Emily Thai took part in the Japan exchange and said a highlight was living with a host family that four children ranging in ages from six to 16, which was an adjustment for someone who grew up as an only child until she was 11 years old.

“I was welcomed so warmly and played with my younger siblings, often in a park,” Emily said. “After school, they’d knock around on neighbourhood doors to gather more kids to play soccer in the park with us. The family was so friendly, and they also had a very strong relationship with their grandparents. It was heart-warming to be part of such a large and rowdy family.”

Year 11 student Georgia Steel visited France and said her highlight was four days in Paris.

“I was able to explore what felt like every inch of the city,” Georgia said. “These experiences ranged from seeing the Eiffel Tower, which was particularly amazing at night and the Opera House as well as more simple activities such as riding the metro and walking along the bustling streets of Paris. Wherever I looked there was something new to see and I was always excited for what was around the corner.”

Of course, the highlight of any international travel is often trying different foods and the students all broadened their culinary horizons while away.

Emily Thai said the meal she enjoyed on New year even was particularly memorable.

“Osechi is a platter traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve that consists of many seafoods, meat and sushi,” Emily said. “Including sea urchin brains! I absolutely everything on the platter but I don’t think I’ll be eating the sea urchin again as I didn’t like it. My favourite food in Japan was takoyaki, which is fried bits of octopus, vegetables, and batter, shaped in a small ball.”

Dipping toes into French cuisine meant Georgia and fellow Year 11 students Zara Tacey attempted eating escargot - otherwise known as snails – however both students had different feelings about the experience.

“The most interesting meal I had during my time in France was probably snails which is also undoubtedly one of the only French meals I won’t miss,” Zara admitted.

Georgia, on the other hand, quite enjoyed sampling French delicacies.

“I tried both escargot and foie gras twice, on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.” Georgia said. “At first I was hesitant to try them, because 'snails and duck liver' doesn't sound appealing, however I now wish we ate them more often because they were both delicious and I realised why they are both are signature dishes, particularly for special occasions.”

All the exchange students agreed the experience was unsurpassed and they’d recommend it to any other students wanting to immerse themselves in another culture and language.

“I had a great experience on the exchange and it was very rewarding to be able to actually use the language that I had been learning for years,” Year 11 student Ellen Roberts said. “It really renewed my passion for Japanese and I hope to keep improving so I can communicate fluently in the future. I’d also like to return to Japan because there is still so much for me to learn about the language and culture, and I want to see my Japanese friends and host family again.”

International travel will continue at Gippsland Grammar this year with a number of tours and exchanges on the calendar. In April, 46 Gippsland Grammar students will be accompanied by Head of Performing Arts Dr Kevin Cameron, Head of Languages Sonia Duggan and French teacher Daniel De Deersmaeker on an ‘ANZAC Music and Languages Tour’ to France and Belgium. And Term 3 will be dominated by exchanges with 20 students visiting Japan for a Study Tour visiting Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Tokyo; eight French students visiting France on exchange and 21 girls from Hikarigaoka Girls High School will visit Gippsland Grammar for a two-week exchange.