I have been with Natassja and her family for one week. Actually, at first I felt shy but I found them very kind with me and I felt more comfortable while I was talking with Natassja. I had never been asked to talk about my religion before but one day Natassja wanted to know about it and that was my pleasure to explain it to her.
I really want to thank Natassja and her family for offering me all the food which was Halal. Finally, thank you very much Natassja for your welcoming me into your home this week. I appreciate everything you did for me.
Hanan, student, Beverly Hills IEC
Merhaba, that's hello in Arabic one of the many things I've learnt this week. I was a little nervous when I met Hanan at the start of the week because of our massive cultural differences but when it comes down to it, we are both just 16 year old girls.
I was asked to explain her lifestyle but even with the hours that we have spoken, I'm still not confident enough to speak about all the details. Instead I'll just answer a few questions I've been asked this week.
The scarf around her head is called a hijab and she wears it as part of her religion. Men, she doesn't know, are not allowed to see her without it. However she can take it off in front of girls, so yes, I have seen her hair and it is just as gorgeous as the rest of her!
Dating isn't completely forbidden. But if she does want a boyfriend, he must first talk to her father and be approved by the rest of her family -a lot different to us, right?
She is Muslim. This means she prays five times a day and if this seems extravagant to some of us it is what she has always done. She actually thinks it strange that I don't pray at all.
I don't have time to tell you about her amazing culture so I'll just answer another question that I've been asked a lot. It's not at all awkward to be with her. We walked along the beach together, we listened to music on the bus, we laughed, we talked. Because, despite our differences we are both human and in the end we're just two girls who've spent the last week forming a friendship that will last a lifetime.
Natassja, student, Wollumbin High
The program is broad and diverse and combines environmental education, values education, Discovering Democracy and leadership programs as well as Aboriginal and multicultural education. Students explore various issues through the arts, sport and other areas of interest.
Cecilie Yates, Teacher, Engadine High
It's an invaluable experience that will hopefully equip our children with the ability to question the stereotypes and prejudices of some of our society.
Leisa Stranack, Parent, Newport Public School.
All stakeholders involved have discovered that Bondi Beach and Granville South have more in common than what first meets the eye.
Students, teachers and parents have developed their knowledge of Australia's multicultural society, investigating cultural identities through pen pals, with the program presenting many opportunities to break down and understand stereotypes associated with different cultures.
Teacher, Bondi Beach Public School
Our pen pals have given us the opportunity to take part in a cultural exchange and have helped us learn about the different cultural lifestyles.
Jasmine & Kenya
On Harmony Day, I liked the music. It was very interesting and a lot of fun. The playground was a lot bigger than I expected and there were a lot of hand ball courts.
The visit provided the opportunity to remove social isolation, challenge beliefs, build tolerance and understand the way conflict can arise through prejudice. It was also an opportunity for teenagers from really different backgrounds to just hang out together in a safe and supportive environment.
Karen Connell, Principal Wollumbin High
My daughter is still emailing her pen pal, one year later!
We don't have the opportunity to go on many holidays. The cultural exchange program provided an experience that my children will never forget.
We billetted kids from western Sydney. Our community is quite monocultural. My kids learnt so much.
I had a GREAT time. Met AMAZING people. Made new mates.
My country experience enabled me to gain a new appreciation for life on the land. Love the great open space.
I never realised that the country and city could be so vastly different in culture, values and expectations. It's a truly eye-opening experience.
Sasha, Northern NSW
The exchange has changed my life and made me understand the ways of city life.