First-hand experience

Cultural Exchange

First-hand experience

Building Ties: Students from Swansea University with SJCCites. DH Photos by Shivakumar B H

A large group of students from Swansea University in Wales are down in the City to attend classes and seminars, take in the local sights and experience the food, fashion and lifestyle first hand. In short, to absorb some amount of Bangalore’s student life and work culture. This month-long interaction is the result of an MOU signed between the Welsh University and St Joseph's College of Commerce.

It takes a special kind of motivation to move out of a comfort zone and travel across a continent to experience life in a different cultural and socio-economic milieu. But that’s what makes a cultural exchange programme different.

 The students from Swansea have now been here for a week and each one with a college buddy in tow (a Josephite who will show him or her the ropes) have already had a sensory overload of experiences to absorb and reflect on.

This has included a brief overview of India’s spiritual heritage through a series of lectures and seminars, interactions with different  NGOs, which work with street children and economically disadvantaged groups, a couple of days retreat into the calming environs of Fireflies Ashram and a trip to General Electric Company.

This is just the beginning. There are plenty of tours, interactions and participatory activities organised for the duration of their stay and one could tell that it has been an overwhelming experience for them at many different levels.

“We saw this as an opportunity not just for cultural exchange and understanding but to lay the foundation for something bigger and more sustainable. We hope that through initiatives like these students from universities in the West can get in touch with potential employers in India and come here to work on internship programmes and projects.”

“Through the process of learning new languages and exploring other countries and cultures, students develop the new skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in and contribute to a society marked by increased diversity,” says Pauline McDonald, Head of Careers and Employability from the University, who is accompanying the group.

Stephanie Clarkson, who is studying International Relations is on her second visit to the country. “I spent a couple of months in Madurai in 1994 teaching English there.

Bangalore was very different then and I really enjoyed the cosmopolitan nature of the City, especially when I needed some comfort European food. I love Indian fashion and shopping here is a delight,” she smiles wearing her lightly embroidered kurti with matching jewellery.

Owen Biddles, a doctorate student pursuing ecology, speaks with disarming candour on his experiences so far. “Mumbai was quite a culture shock.

Even now it is not easy to come to terms with the extreme dichotomies that exist everywhere in a society that survives without the safety net of a support system that we, in the West, take for granted. It has definitely made us more aware of the role of young people in a changing world and the need to become more proactive, sensitive and less judgmental and prejudiced.”

Everything cannot be complete smooth sailing in a cultural exchange with so many different mindsets and ground realities to deal with but the group exudes a positive synergy that belies the fact that they were virtual strangers when they first got together, students from different courses and disciplines bound by a common thirst for adventure.

“Everyone has pre-conceived notions of another culture that change when you come face-to-face with the real deal.

Through programmes like these participants develop a sensitivity to local cultural values, a sense of confidence and an ability to function as a member of a team. An added bonus is the enhancement of one’s transnational competencies, a redeeming quality in future employment opportunities in an emerging new world,’’ smiles Shelley Matthews, Project Officer from the University.

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