SA’s houses bigger, fences higher, English pupils find

2014-02-24 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG is kind of like England, but with hotter weather and bigger houses.

“I thought it would be more deserty here,” said Ben Coombs, part of a group of 10- and 11-year-olds from St Piran’s School in Maidenhead, England, who left on Saturday after spending two and a half weeks at local schools. The seven boys and four girls were part of an annual exchange programme with Cordwalles Preparatory School and St John’s DSG, which sees Grade 6 children experiencing school and family life in another country. The local children in the programme, who are 11 and 12 years old, will travel to England in May.

While the blistering weather of the last two weeks was generally acknowledged as a welcome change to the chilly tempests back home, the physical space here was also appreciated. “The houses here are very big,” said Sam Hayes. “My house is so small, it’s pathetic.” Across town at St John’s, Christa Scott observed that “our school is like a rabbit hole. We don’t have lots of corridors, like here.” Another difference, she said, was that “at home my dog doesn’t jump on my bed”.

“Outside the houses here there are fences and armed response. That’s a bit scary,” said Jonathan Lillie. “Yes, what’s that about?” piped up someone in the background. “It’s because we have lots of robbers,” said a local voice authoritatively.

The exchange programme started in 2006 and for the first five years was only between Cordwalles and St Piran’s, but because the English school is co-ed, St John’s was asked to join three years ago. The children apply and must motivate for why they should go. Successful applicants are matched with a suitable family among their counterparts and contact is made beforehand so that they can all get to know one another.

“Relationships are formed that are lasting,” said Petra Wiesinger, headmistress of St John’s junior school. She said she enjoyed seeing how the girls who participated flourished. “They transform in a positive way and they feel a great sense of achievement.”

For Grade 6 teacher Desiree Adam, the programme brings “a whole new dynamic into the classroom. There’s such a marked change in them when they come back. They see the world in a whole new light and they share with the others, so the rest of the class also benefits.”

For the St Piran’s children, the last fortnight has been a whirl of new experiences, like Zulu and Afrikaans lessons, visits to uShaka and seeing wild animals like lions. Two swam in the Midmar Mile, one went water skiing for the first time and the boys all watched the start of the Dusi Canoe Marathon.

Did they miss home? “A little,” said Ben Almond, with a little flutter of his hand. “I missed my dog,” added Jonathan Lillie.

The local children now have several weeks of anticipation before the start of their big adventure. For many it will be their first trip overseas. “I’m excited,” said Thomas Parsons. “My gran lives in England and I haven’t seen her for a long time.” Others were looking forward to seeing “cool things like Legoland”, or places they’d read about in books.

Michelle Eglington has more practical matters on her mind. “The shops,” she exclaimed, is what she’s most looking forward to. To raucous laughter, she explained: “We have wildlife and they have shops.”

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