Online International Exchange Fosters Closer Relationships For Students
21 Jan 2021
In August 2020 a group of Japanese students from Hashimoto High School in the Kanagawa Prefecture were due to visit Australia for an international study exchange with Trinity Lutheran College through Study Gold Coast. As the year unfolded and it became increasingly clear that international travel wouldn’t be possible the program was totally rebuilt as a virtual experience.
The brains behind this new virtual experience was Angela Tyler, CEO of Tyler International, whose company has been facilitating international study tours to the Gold Coast for well over 30 years.
“We had to change all of the curriculum, all of the resources and all of the development of how we were going to deliver the program, but the biggest challenge was finding the right technology that would be compatible with each school’s software systems and firewalls”, says Angela.
By October the first virtual class was underway with an introduction to the program and an English language lesson for the Japanese students. Later sessions included virtual experiences with the Gold Coast Student Hub and the Home of the Arts (HOTA), as well as a tour through a homestay family’s home and a visit to the Gold Coast City Council Chambers with a presentation from the Mayor’s Office.
Throughout the program there were many cultural exchanges, social opportunities and Q and A sessions as the students learnt more about each other and their countries. Trinity Lutheran College Year 9 student Kaitlyn Day says the most exciting aspect of the program was making new friends, however the most noticeable difference was the impact of COVID-19.
“We’re so lucky to still be able to move freely out and about during the pandemic and that we don’t have to wear masks in the classroom like the Japanese students. The Hashimoto students tell us they have to wear masks all the time and that they’re not allowed to go outside”, Kaitlyn says.
Likewise, Trinity Lutheran College Year 12 student Lillian Li concours that she really enjoyed making new friends from another country and that she’s already exchanged contact details with quite a few of the students. According to Angela Tyler, the way the students connected within the new program was one of the big surprises for all involved.
“Traditionally when the students meet in person they’re a little bit nervous, but when they have to face each other in the virtual space they feel more of a need to fill the silence, so the nature of the medium facilitated a need to build a quicker rapport between the students”, she says.
“I think the other reason it worked so well is because these kids are digital natives and so comfortable conversing in this way, it’s very much their space and as a result the increase in the level of excitement has been particularly noticeable. For instance, a number of the Australian students remarked after the first session that they couldn’t wait for the next one, which is not the kind of response you usually get when they’re meeting face to face in a classroom.”
As the students gathered for their last formal session of the program there wasn’t a sense of sadness that it was all coming to an end, quite the opposite, and perhaps that’s because the program has already grown beyond the expectations of the organisers, as Angela Tyler explains:
“I think we’re all a little bit surprised at how positive the reaction from the students has been. The really interesting part is that it’s fostered closer relationships between the students as they’ve been connecting outside of the scheduled sessions through online gaming, sharing photos and following each other on social media – it’s that kind of interaction that was unique to the delivery of this program and one of the hallmarks of its success.”