DUBLIN EXCHANGE PROGRAMME
"The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are."
- Samuel Johnson
It was with this very same desire of making education go beyond the textbooks and the rigid confines of the classroom that Father Bruylants, the then Headmaster of St. Xavier's Collegiate School, Kolkata, had started the student exchange programme between St. Xavier's Collegiate School, Kolkata and Belvedere College, Dublin in 1996. With the world becoming one and requiring all individuals to be widely aware of this phenomenal homogeneity, there is a vital need nowadays for a better understanding of life outside India. With these purposes, though initially in a small way, the Dublin Exchange Programme has been successful in bringing about a positive change and a better understanding in the lives of a select few privileged students of both the schools.
Sixteen groups of fifteen boys each have visited Ireland during the past sixteen years and have had the privilege of experiencing a part of the West at first hand. Their contact with a variant culture was at a deeper than ordinary level. For this programme, the students undergo a long, careful and meticulous training process in India before leaving for Ireland, where they are hosted by the families of the Irish students who are involved in the exchange programme.
The programme starts each year with the Irish students visiting Kolkata during November, where they are cordially received into the families of our students as another family member. The Irish boys have always highly appreciated the warmth that exudes out of the host families. The Irish boys' ability to adapt to this new environment is amazing. In fact, it is very touching to see the dedication and the sincerity with which these teenage boys carry out their duties. Never did a single student complain of any discomfort instead, their genuine concern and empathy for the poor and downtrodden in India, often moved them to tears.
As a compulsory part of the exchange programme, our boys get involved in social work at various places in Kolkata. This is to train them to provide service to their less fortunate brothers and sisters and also to make them understand how fortunate they are, and how they could play a small part in bringing change to the lives of the less privileged people of their society. This programme provides them with a platform to affect a significant difference by serving society and this in turn, as is believed, will transform them into men of true character.
The boys have regular journaling sessions with their teachers, where they reflect on their experiences and try to realize the deeper meanings of life. Our boys also make a village trip in December, to understand and experience the simple life of the villagers. It brings them face to face with the hardships of life and makes them realise how the things they take for granted in life, are actually so difficult to obtain for these poor yet easily contented people. Quite a few of our boys have taken upon them, in the recent and distant past, the great and benevolent responsibility of helping different students in the rural areas to complete education at various levels and of different sorts, for instance, vocational, standard 12 and graduation.
Finally, our boys visit Dublin during the month of May in the year following the village trip. It may seem that our students find it comparatively easy in Dublin as they don't have to deal with the dirt and pollution, the heavy traffic and the sea of people all around. However, the experience makes a big impact on them. Our students are genuinely moved by the sorry plight of the large number of old people abandoned by their families and left in old age homes. Coming from a country where grandparents are the head of the families, it teaches them much. With the great store of empathy that is so characteristic of youth, they shower the elderly people with the same love and affection that they have for their grandparents.
St. Augustine had remarked about travel saying, "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page." The student exchange programme between St. Xavier's Collegiate School, Kolkata and Belvedere College, Dublin, is not just a part of education for the students or a mere experience for the teachers involved, it is an educative experience for everyone who is a part of this project. The one lesson learnt from these fifteen years of experience is that youth carries with it the eternal hope for humanity and mankind, transcending boundaries and barriers......NIHIL ULTRA!!