Strengthening the network through successful student exchanges | Aga Khan Academies

Strengthening the network through successful student exchanges

25 December 2018

The two month-long inaugural Aga Khan Academies exchange programme came to a close one week before the semester ended in December 2018, allowing for returning students to reflect, relive and readjust.

Kais Vasaya, a Hyderabad student, said upon his return from Mombasa: “As one of the 16 students, there were multiple expectations of us. These included how we were to behave, how we would interact with the hosts, and how we would have so much to share after the exchange was over. Personally, I didn’t let these expectations bug me while I was there. I observed the similarities and differences between teaching styles and student-teacher relationships between the two Academies, and came up with a theory: when you experience something new, you redefine what you call ideal.”

In turn, the Mombasa exchange students got an opportunity to digest and process the array of extra-curricular activities they participated in with the rest of their grade 9 classmates in the last few weeks of the programme. They spent a weekend at the Nagarjuna Sagar Dam in Nalgonda district in late November 2018, in order to better absorb the theoretical concepts of their science unit tackling human interaction with the environment. There, they trekked through a tiger reserve, visited waterfalls, and spent quality time bonding with each other, singing and dancing on the bus rides.

“What surprised me was that only a bridge separates the two states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh,” expressed Kindi Amir, while talking about their journey. “We went there by auto rickshaws. The students sitting next to me explained many things about Nagarjuna Sagar. The part of the trip I loved best was when I walked on a rope! I was proud of myself.”

During another weekend, they went to Shilparamam, a local arts & crafts market. “The best part of this outing was when the Hyderabad students helped in bargaining the price for things,” shared Aksha Hemnani, one of the grade 9 host students. “I remember talking to Saruni. He said ‘Aksha! I bought this saree for my mom, is it nice?’ My response after looking at the detailed work of the saaree was, ‘It’s really beautiful, but does your mom know how to wear a saree?’ And he replied, ‘She will learn it by watching some YouTube tutorials.’ From this, I can say that the students were truly engaging with Indian culture!”

A ‘camping on campus’ initiative involved grade 9 students working together to pitch tents on the football field, chat around bonfires and play games under the moonlit night. “This camp was extremely important for the unity of our grade. It was an amazing opportunity for all grade 9 students, regardless of whether you were from Hyderabad or Mombasa, to really come together and have an overall fun time,” said Armaan Manji, another of the host students.

Students also got to enjoy a heritage walk through the old city, culminating in a cup of Irani chai and biscuits in front of the iconic Char Minar monument. And finally, there was the traditional dinner night, where grade 9 residential students got a taste of ugali, a Kenyan staple porridge made of corn flour, and several other Kenyan dishes. They talked about their experiences through the exchange programme and deconstructed some of the attitudes, emotions and learning they had each gained from their time in Hyderabad.

“One of the best days that grade 9 would have had in the whole term was the day when we had the traditional dinner,” said Aksha. “The food was delicious and I must say that the Indians liked it too. The irony is that though we had so much fun, there were a few people with tears in their eyes as we were bidding farewell to the exchange students, many of us not knowing when we might see each other again.”

“Before the former exchange students went on holiday, we ran several post-exchange sessions where students went through guided reflection, were interviewed about their experience to help us understand their growth, received support in readjustment to their home school, and began to plan how to support me in launching next year's exchange to the current grade 8s,” shared Academies’ student mobility coordinator, Elizabeth Macfarlane. “During these sessions, many students spoke of their increased independence and confidence, particularly in entering unfamiliar cultural settings in the future, and how their firsthand experience of another culture had led them to new realisations about their own. Applications for the next exchange will be launched in February 2019 and we expect to announce some interesting changes. We were very lucky to have such an excellent group of first year participants, who will be invaluable ambassadors for the programme and an important resource for younger years of exchange students.”

When asked what he would say to the next cohort of exchange students, Ryan Maina told us: “The exchange programme was a journey and experience which really opened me up to new perspectives and people and generally a new culture and way of living. 18 October to 02 December: 45 days, 1080 hours, 64,800 minutes, 3,888,000 seconds just went by so fast, too fast, if you ask me. What I’ll take away from this entire experience is that don’t let other people formulate your opinions on certain types of people or countries. The people who I met here were just amazing, the hospitality and joy around the Academy was just unbelievable. Don’t believe stereotypes. Experience and create your own conclusions and always approach anything with an open mindset.”

Written by Kamini Menon