Virtual RS Student Exchange

Posted: 21 April 2022

Student Exchange is a well-established, and proven vehicle for developing intercultural understanding through experiential learning.

But when it’s impossible to travel, and therefore impossible to offer this immersive experience to students, what’s the alternative? This was the question, asked at the start of the Pandemic lockdown in 2020, that provided the foundations for a new Virtual Exchange programme, now an established part of the Round Square programme portfolio, alongside the return of travelling exchange.

A Round Square Virtual Exchange takes place over a minimum of six weeks, during which time the students interact and get to know one another through online video and audio calls (e.g. zoom, facetime, skype), or email exchanges. Students participating in the Exchange choose from a list at least five experiences to share with their exchange counterpart(s). Options range from weekly video calls to swapping day-in-the-life diaries; from teaching each other language lessons to conducting a video-tour of the neighbourhood; from joining a family meal via Zoom to playing/ singing music together.

Most schools ask students to keep a log or diary of their exchange experience and use it as a means of recording the things they have learnt from, and about, their exchange partner and the country in which they are based. At the end they sometimes produce a report or a short profile of their exchange partner or biographical narrative to share with the rest of the class.

Round Square Virtual Exchanges can be 1:1 or can take the form of a group exchange involving up to three students from two schools in each group.

From New York to Marrakech – In one example, students from Trevor Day School in the USA connected with their counterparts at Elaraki School in Morocco. The student groups met three times a week for six weeks. “Each week was focused on one of the RS IDEALS”, says Dacel Casey, Director of Community and Global Partnerships at Trevor Day School. “Our week was broken up into discussions, group work and a project/presentation day.” Trevor Day School has also connected with Ermitage International School in France. Meeting once every month, students explored and discussed the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

From Zurich to Delhi – In another example, Grade 8 students Annabelle (from Inter-Community School Zürich in Switzerland) and Aanya (from Vidya Devi Jindal School in India) were paired up for 1:1 Round Square Virtual Exchange. From the very start of their exchange, the girls spent time getting to know one another, finding out each other’s hobbies and interests, and creating and answering quizzes about themselves and their home nations. At the end of their RS Virtual Exchange, Annabelle and Aanya each shared with their classes a short biographical report about the other. Reflecting on her exchange experience, Annabelle said “This was such a great experience to connect with another person on a global scale and to be able to learn about another culture and other traditions! I look forward to getting to know more people through this virtual exchange programme.”

From Colorado to Cape Town to Peru – Students from Fountain Valley School of Colorado have joined Virtual Exchanges with students from St. Cyprian’s School in Cape Town and Markham College in Peru. “We arranged an initial pilot of a six-week virtual experience”, says Simon Walker, History Teacher and Round Square Coordinator at Fountain Valley School. “The students spent a great deal of time on Zoom/Meet calls and recorded YouTube videos of their lives”, he says. “They also visited each other’s classes and built a combined website as the culminating activity.”

Reflecting on the experience, one student from Fountain Valley School said “During the pandemic, I thought exchanges were out of the question, but we worked around it and the exchange even inspired our school Round Square club to host a Round Square Zoom Postcard this year regarding climate change. Needless to say, the experience proved to me that even COVID has a workaround for cultural immersion.” 

Another FVS student felt that participating in the RS virtual exchange was easily one of the most enlightening experiences I have ever had. Not only did I gain a friend, but also expanded my global awareness, came to appreciate our cultural differences, and profited from my experience in my schooling itself!”

The Round Square Virtual Exchange Programme has proved to be popular in its pilot phases and is now gaining momentum across the network. Whilst it was initially created as a temporary replacement for travelling exchange visits, it is proving to be a great connector in its own right, and a gateway and catalyst for inspiring students to want to undertake a travelling exchange in the future.

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