In early 2023, Nairet Morales Sosa, MFL - Teacher / Director of Global Dimension at The Folkestone School for Girls, led a group of students and teachers to Madrid in Spain for an exchange. This second blog is about the group’s experiences in Madrid, and the impact the exchange had on the students.
We started planning our partnership exchange in 2019. We had big plans and ideas and then the pandemic happened, but we kept trying to make the exchange happen. And now we have! It's just amazing to see how much everybody gets out of it and I think the effects are going to be seen for years to come.
Our school was very, very well matched. We're a grammar school, but our disadvantaged number is around 12%, a lot of our students are the first generation to go to university.
There are many students that have not left Folkestone. They’ve never had a passport. It took a lot for them to come and stay with a family that they didn't know. It took a lot for the parents. I had some phone calls that were an hour long with parents because they were worried. And I just had to say, “you need to trust us and trust the system that we have put in place. Here is all the safeguarding paperwork that you've signed, the same as the Spanish families. This is how it's going to happen. And if you're not happy then obviously your child cannot come.” But we didn't have anyone pulling out.
The school in Madrid is a little bit smaller. It was founded by the community so I think it hasn't been there for a long time. Demographic-wise, because it’s in the community, everyone lives very close in Madrid. It's a lovely, lovely school.
Their site is not the same and the facilities they have are not the same but it has the same values and ethos and wants for their students. We realised that there are so many differences but so many more similarities than differences between the schools.
It's that idea that there is much more that unites us than divides us, that we’re people, it doesn't matter where we come from, we’re all people and we all care about the same things - the family, the time spent together, the friends, sitting around the dinner table.
We did a questionnaire before and after. Most of the students were afraid of going. They were apprehensive; obviously, it was a new family. When they came back, we asked, “if you thought you were not going to enjoy it, did you enjoy it? Did you change your mind?” And all of them said “Yes!”
Some of the comments from the students, it's just beautiful.
“It was amazing, a once in a lifetime experience, I couldn't recommend it any more.”
“It was a true cultural immersion. My confidence has grown incredibly.”
“It was a very challenging experience living with a family who didn't speak your language, but very fun. I've learned so much about Spanish culture. It has inspired me to enjoy more Spanish lessons. I have also made lifelong friends from this trip.”
“I feel on this exchange I met my second family. I was very welcome and I feel that the family always accommodated me. I am so grateful for this opportunity. I hope others get the same opportunity in the future.”
And the parents’ feedback is exactly the same. It’s so nice.
“This is exactly what young people need. This is exactly what our country needs. This is exactly what they need in in terms of personal development”.
It is just beautiful, beautiful feedback.
Teachers have seen the increase in confidence too. Two of the teachers came over and said, “This student that went on the exchange, they would never even talk in class, they were so shy, they wouldn't even acknowledge me. Now, they say hello when we pass each other in Spanish and they participate so much in class, they're really interested, they're asking for extra work.” That effect was seen straight away.