About cultural exchange

Cultural exchange programs expose students to people from different cultural, religious, geographic and socio-economic backgrounds and in so doing provide the opportunity for students to develop a greater understanding of diversity – both in Australia and worldwide. They allow students to interact with and learn from people who are different from themselves and to participate in new and unique experiences beyond their own communities. Cultural exchange assists students to develop positive relationships with others, understand a broader range of perspectives, and develop the knowledge and skills needed for participation in our multicultural society.

Traditionally, school cultural exchange programs brought together students from two or more schools to meet and interact in person, and student relationships were often maintained between visits using letter writing. Today, with new and emerging communication technologies and increased globalisation, cultural exchange programs may rely entirely on online or ‘virtual’ interaction, and/or incorporate these to compliment physical school (or community) visits. These developments also mean that exchanges may involve any number of school communities and are easily sustainable as regular or ongoing events.

Scope

The fundamental purpose of a cultural exchange program is for students to share with and learn from others. Within this broad scope, exchanges may be between:

  • students from different cultural, linguistic or religious backgrounds;
  • students who live in different geographic areas, e.g. rural, regional, metropolitan;
  • students from different socio-economic backgrounds or family circumstances;
  • students from schools of different types, e.g. government/non-government, single sex/co-educational, primary/secondary or religious/secular;
  • students and non-students (i.e., other youth or local or international community members).

Most importantly, cultural exchange programs should be process-centred. As such, the schools (including staff, students, parents and community members) involved should collaboratively determine the goal/s, content and intended outcomes of their program, including the learning and social outcomes that they hope to achieve. Goals often change as the program evolves and so programs should be flexible enough to allow for this change and, importantly, incorporate teaching and learning around the value of flexibility within collaborative, intercultural contexts.

Cultural exchange programs may focus on any number of curriculum-based or cross-curriculum areas and may be delivered in a variety of ways. They may take the form of one-off or brief socio-cultural experiences or on-going, relationship-focused programs that incorporate diverse activities. They may include offline or online interaction and engagement or a combination of these.

 

Curriculum based
While all Key Learning Areas may be used to provide a focus for cultural exchange programs, many schools in NSW have focused on English, Human Society and Its Environment (HSIE), Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) or Creative and Performing Arts because the relevant syllabuses contain specific objectives and outcomes that provide opportunities for students to explore issues of identity, social justice, community harmony and cultural diversity. NSW Syllabus examples:

  • explorations of personal and Australian identities through PDHPE
  • explorations of Australia’s cultural and ethno-religious diversity through HSIE
  • video production, photography, drama, dance and music through Creative Arts
  • creative writing and public speaking through English

 

With the incorporation of Intercultural Understanding as a general capability in the new Australian curriculum, there are enhanced opportunities for students to explore culture and cultural diversity and create connections with others through a range of different learning areas. Australian curriculum learning area linkages:

 

Cross-curriculum focus
Exchange programs provide opportunities for students to understand features of a fair and just society that values diversity by focusing on a range of cross-curriculum areas including:

 

Possible focus areas:

  • Aboriginal education
  • Agricultural studies
  • Anti-racism and community harmony
  • Civics and citizenship
  • Conflict resolution
  • Environmental education
  • Gender education
  • Intercultural or interfaith programs
  • Multicultural education
  • Peace education
  • Performing and creative arts programs
  • Sporting and personal development programs
  • Student leadership programs.
Local issues
Schools may wish to use a cultural exchange program to address issues of local concern. Such issues may be identified by teachers, students or community members. Examples of local issues include:

  • manifestations of racism
  • perceived lack of understanding of issues given media attention
  • limited understanding about Australia’s cultural diversity
  • limited experience with Indigenous communities
  • limited understanding of Indigenous culture and history
  • limited experience of and understandings about rural and regional communities
  • limited understanding of Australia’s religious diversity.

Where the conduct of cultural exchange programs has been prompted by identified local issues such as those listed above, schools generally report that activities which provide opportunities for students to develop relationships with students from their partner school/s are very successful.

As is the case with all cultural exchange programs, schools determine the most appropriate focus areas and activities to include within their cultural exchanges.Examples of cultural exchanges which address local areas of concern:

  • joint exploration of the world’s religions by students from different religious backgrounds
  • joint video production on the exploration of Australian identity
  • creative arts projects which bring together students from Indigenous and other backgrounds
  • creation of digital stories portraying the different daily routines and experiences of rural and urban students.

 

Planning an exchange

The first step is for schools to determine the type and nature of exchange they would like to conduct. Schools may choose to find another school (or other schools) to exchange with, or to engage with local, international, or online communities in other ways.

In developing a cultural exchange program, it may benefit schools to consider:

  • What are the aims and intended outcomes of the cultural exchange program?
  • Who will participate – students, staff, parents and community members?
  • What are the cultural groups represented in your school or amongst your participants and who are the groups you would like to interact and exchange with?
  • What type of activities (real and/or virtual) are to be included as part of the cultural exchange program?
  • Have similar exchanges been conducted by other schools or is there research that may be relevant to your proposed exchange?
  • Over what period of time will the exchange operate?
  • Who will be responsible for organising the exchange?
  • Will the broader school community be involved in the exchange and if so, how?
  • How will students, staff and the school community be informed of the operation of the cultural exchange program?
  • What costs are involved both for the schools and the students?
  • What resources are available to support the school in undertaking the exchange?
  • How will the success of the cultural exchange program be evaluated? What data/evidence will be collected before, during and after the exchange program?
  • How will successes and findings be promoted beyond the school?