An exchange of ideas

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Exchange programmes promote diversity on college campus, and also have manifold benefits for students

SHARMILA MENEZES

Social media, easy travel, and online shopping has revolutionised the 21st century and how we communicate in it. It has brought with it the ability to connect people all over the globe. International Exchange Programme (IEP) is one such facet of the 21st century which has interconnected students globally.

IEP provides an array of opportunities to students from an educational institution to travel to a foreign nation. At Chowgule College, IEP, took root in 2010 and was conceptualised through cultural exchange.

Exchange programmes are two-fold – cultural exchange and academic exchange.

Cultural exchanges give students an insight into foreign culture. Chowgule College has set up student cultural exchange programmes by framing alliances with educational institutions in Europe and Asia. These programmes extend to about two weeks during which students gain an exposure to innovative forms of learning and culture. They attend lectures and are taken for sightseeing by the host institution to get a quality understanding of the culture and lifestyle. They also get to live with the host student’s family in their homes where they can integrate into the lifestyle, and form a long-lasting bond in a foreign land. Thus, it plays a pivotal role in providing a life-changing experience to the students. One student said to me: “When encountering a new culture, it is interesting how similar we are.”

This experience of understanding a new culture develops tolerance and understanding of other cultures and strengthens the social and communication competencies of the student to adapt to the global market.

Apart from the cultural exchange the Academic Exchange Programme has manifold benefits such as:

Low cost

Students are exempted from paying tuition fees to the partner university which would otherwise be beyond the reach of a middle-class family. The same fee exemption holds relevant for the students from partner universities coming to study as exchange students at Chowgule College.

Scholarships

Meritorious students can avail scholarships available for various programmes from partner universities or independent bodies. These scholarships further reduce the cost for students as it covers their food and partly their living expenses during their stay abroad.

Exposure to alternative ways of learning

Every country has a specific manner of teaching. Alternate forms of learning which include projects, assignments, field studies, internships and other forms of learning allow them to apply their knowledge and skills and retain it even after returning back home.

Personal development

Students when exposed to living on their own, far away from the comfort zone of home and their parents, develop self-confidence and self-esteem. They also learn how to form their own opinions about things that matter most to them. It likewise improves the student’s leadership and reasoning abilities and advances their understanding of multicultural societies.

Charmaine Pereira of Chowgule College who had the privilege of studying in two universities in two different countries (Japan and Portugal) between 2018 and 2020 states that moving to another city opened up countless avenues for learning and experiencing a city. “I was mesmerised by the culture and mystery of Japan during my time at Kansai University, Osaka, Japan and experienced the thrill of travel and discovery while I was at the University of Porto, Portugal. The lessons I learned in and outside of class furthered my curiosity of the great unknown and showed me the world in a rainbow of new shapes and colours,” she says, adding that it also taught her new lessons about herself and where she comes from. “The friends I made, the people I met, the places I saw will always and forever be my most cherished memories. It will no doubt give me an edge in all my academic endeavours and even in life,” she says.

Prepare for the global economy

Students are better prepared with relevant skills learned in entering the job market or when it comes to applying for higher education. They gain a better understanding of the universal market and are better prepared to solve challenges at their workplace.

Social and cultural benefits

When the student stays for an extended period in another country, he or she creates new bonds. The memories and friendships made could last forever and could open up the student to a global network of job prospects and connections. They also learn to depend on themselves, how to ask questions and be proactive, and provide and solicit help.

Spending extended time in a foreign country also tends to open students’ eyes wider when they look at the world. They may be more reflective about their own culture.

Some of the universities which are actively involved in International Exchanges with Chowgule College are Waseda University, Japan, University of Porto, Portugal, Stockholm Science and Innovation School, Sweden and Kansai University, Osaka, Japan.

By and large the last decade has witnessed many colleges and universities in India getting actively involved in exchange programmes nationally and internationally to give students a global exposure.

However, the last one year the pandemic has delivered a tough blow on the student exchange programmes. Nevertheless, the new challenge has brought out a new and innovative approach to help students with ‘Virtual Exchanges’.

Virtual Cultural Exchange Programmes are now the only means for cross-cultural communication and collaboration to develop new skills without any boundary constraints due to restrictions on air space. When students from across the world come together virtually or in person, they get a perfect platform to share unique experiences and deep insights.

In conclusion, student exchange programmes can certainly have an impact on the lives of the participating students. They are an excellent opportunity for students to gain new interests, get education, and gain an appreciation for diversity, all at the same time.

(Writer is a coordinator, International Exchange Programmes, Parvatibai Chowgule College of Arts and Science, Margao)