Leaving home to learn more

| November 17, 2010
BY PAUL GUTHRIE

Hilton College is fortunate to run an exchange programme in conjunction with a number of top schools around the world.

These include Eton College, Harrow School, Gordonstoun, Wrekin College, Strathallan School and Wellington College (all UK); Salem Schule (Germany); King William’s College (Isle of Man); Woodberry Forest School and Charlotte-Latin School (USA); Scot’s College (Australia); and Lakefield College (Canada). Our pupils are selected in their Form III (Grade 10) year, and leave for a partner school in the third or fourth term of that year or in the first term of Form IV (Grade 11). The programme is very popular and more than half the boys in Form III apply each year.

Exchange boys have matured

It is a wonderful experience to go ‘on exchange’. It allows our boys to reflect on the positive aspects of Hilton. They are also able to be constructively critical of those aspects of the school that need improving. The exchange experience is invaluable in terms of maturing, gaining independence, and being an ambassador for one’s school, country and family.

Our selection process is thorough, and every boy who applies to go on exchange is required to:

  • submit a written report motivating why he thinks he should go on exchange
  • participate in two preliminary rounds of interviews and a final interview, which is a more social interaction. (A dinner is held and boys interact with staff during this function, and have to give an impromptu speech.)

A rigorous selection process

A Pupil Exchange Committee – consisting of five members of staff and a chairperson – oversees this process. Once the final 16 to 18 boys have gone through to the final round, all committee members have an opportunity to indicate by ballot which boys would be most suitable.

While they may be asked in the interview which school they would like to visit, boys are not allowed to select a particular school as we believe the experience, wherever it may be, is of tremendous value. Staff members – particularly housemasters, teachers, coaches and other mentors – are approached during the interviewing process to give feedback on the boys. All boys who apply for exchange will benefit from the interview process, something they will experience time and again (particularly in the workplace).

Returning exchange boys assisted in all spheres

Many alumni who are today leaders in various fields have experienced the exchange programme. Besides the educational value, it is also a social, cultural and sporting experience. We believe that although they miss a term’s lessons at Hilton, what they gain by visiting a school in another country is far more valuable. Each boy who goes on exchange must continue to keep up with his academic work while away, and this is made easier today due to technology.

Upon his return, a boy will have extra lessons set up for him (normally in a group, as several boys may have been away during the same term). By the end of the term after his exchange has taken place, we would hope that he has fully caught up all his work. We have found that boys who have been on exchange are diligent about catching up their work and, when they write examinations, their marks are what we would expect from them. At Hilton we have adopted an extensive ‘reintegration programme’ for boys when they return. We must not underestimate the adjustment they need to make on returning. They have often been to schools that are much more liberal, have a different ethos, and the day-to-day routine is somewhat different – thus their reentry into the school needs to be managed carefully. They have meetings with their Housemaster, School Counsellor (group as well as individual sessions), Tutor and the Master-in-Charge of the Exchange Programme. These meetings allow boys the opportunity to express how they are settling back into the school. Good communication with parents about the reintegration is also vital.

An integral part of sharing their exchange experience is for the group as a whole, each year, to do a presentation to the school on the various aspects of their exchange. To avoid repeating matters, each boy is tasked with reflecting on and sharing an aspect of his exchange experience.

Visiting boys welcome

Part of the programme is reciprocation, and we accept boys from our partner school at any time during the year except term four (October-December), as this is a pivotal examination term. We find boys from overseas tend to come for sixto seven-week periods due to their own public examinations, and I would caution against a shorter period, as we want a boy to immerse himself in all that we do at Hilton. It is always gratifying to see how many boys return to South Africa on holiday (and some for university) as a result of the experience of having come here on exchange.

At Hilton, we try to broaden our relationships on various levels with our exchange schools by playing sport against them when on overseas tours, or by staff visiting when at nearby conferences. We try to ensure that we are up-to-date with the latest trends in education, and that we foster good relationships. I encourage schools that have not yet embarked on an exchange programme with schools outside of South Africa to do so. It is a wonderful opportunity for young people to grow, and for your
school to enrich its pupils, and there is also much more for the school to gain in the process.

Paul Guthrie is Master-in-Charge of the Exchange Programme and the Director of Marketing at Hilton College.

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Category: Summer 2010

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