Keshav Bhagat (23rd Batch: 2018-19)

'Take every chance you get in life.... because some things only happen once!!' I grabbed the opportunity of going on the Dublin-Kolkata Student Exchange Program with open arms and have never been more grateful and delighted.


As a part of the Dublin Exchange Program, the 15 students selected along with the teachers in charge have to visit a village in their vicinity. Our village trip to Midnapore was truly enriching and has had a very big impact on my life. We got the opportunity of teaching children of classes 4 and 5 and it was such a great experience. The kids in Midnapore only knew Bengali and although having learnt Bengali as a third language I failed to remember anything...hence struggling to converse with the kids. They understood I didn't know how to communicate in their language and started laughing when I made simple mistakes. This made the memory even more enjoyable. The children I taught came up and asked me what my name was and laughed when they failed to pronounce it. In spite of being from the underprivileged section of the society the children were happy, enjoyed life to the fullest, were extremely disciplined and didn’t complain. These are a few lessons, which will stay with me forever.


A wise man once said,"The two hardest things to say in life are ‘hello’ for the first time and ‘goodbye’ for the last." This very exchange program is a perfect example of this quote. My stay with my Irish brother Jack Burke was very different and enriching for me. The Burkes lived in a two-room apartment and Jack gave up his room for me and he shifted out to the living room. I was deeply touched by this kind gesture. We played football, rugby, FIFA and cricket together which was very enjoyable. He made me feel like home in every possible way and I am extremely grateful to him for all the sacrifices he made for me. I made many friends in Dublin and now can proudly say that I have friends outside India also.


This Student Exchange Program prioritizes social service, in Kolkata and in Dublin. In Kolkata we had to do 30 hours of community care before we visited Dublin. Most of us served in the Little Sisters of the Poor. I swept the floors, cleaned the pathways, the fans, and the windowsills and watered the plants.  This taught me humility and I felt extremely satisfied serving the elderly people living there. In Dublin, I worked at O’Connell’s Primary School with Jack and I loved it. I taught refugee kids how to read and write properly and helped them with basic arithmetic. Those kids were from different parts of the world like Brazil and Romania and did not even know how to speak in English. I helped the teachers with their daily chores and played with the kids there. It was a completely different learning experience and it has drastically changed my perspective towards things. Sometimes while teaching the students I got angry and lost my cool but now when I look back, I feel I could have been more patient with them. The kids lived lives to the fullest, even though some of them were from the underprivileged section of the society and yet had a smile on their faces. 


After this visit to Dublin, I have changed a lot and for the better. Now, whenever I think of Dublin or HOT CHOCOLATE, I just want to go back there and enjoy with the Irish and keep helping the refugees and underprivileged kids of O’Connell’s Primary School whom I will never forget. I miss everything about Dublin - Butlers Chocolate Café, Jack and his affectionate mother, and the other Irish Exchange Students with whom I have treasured memories, which shall remain etched in my mind forever.


 

Parikshit Roychowdhury (22nd Batch: 2017-18)

My heaviest hoodie ineffective towards the windy drizzles that threatened to impale my face, I raised my phone to create a slipstream as I adored the Monaco GP while walking towards the bus stop, waiting to discuss Lahore’s biryani and Afridi’s cricket, with my Pakistani bus-buddy. 


Dublin is a sensory library – not a cathedral, not a parliament, not an edifice – a sensationally mindful lesson in history. You need not scale a skyscraper to enjoy the view. The simple gaze allows you to appreciate the Irish panorama – a wide, flat basin lays ahead for one to wander and create a vision of the world they see. Your mind is allowed to dictate what it filters, unlike the geometry of Haussmann’s flamboyant imagination. 


As an Exchange Student, your first taste of Ireland is quite literal. A seventeen-hour journey dedicated to the pleasures of apple juice, peanuts and 15Mb of free in-flight WiFi makes fifteen year olds’ appetites crave for the good stuff. Your first meal ought to be bland – most blame the cuisine, the nice ones blame the exhaustion but I think it’s our own reluctance towards the salt. Sea salt, rock salt, red salt, kosher salt, lemon salt or just salt – pick one, instead of drowning your gravy in half a bottle of Tabasco, should you need to give your plate some life. Irish cuisine is defined by its colonial past – they started “over-salting and different-salting” their food as a way to embolden their valour against the British Salt Tax – think Gandhi! Likewise, the colonial experience came with famines that pushed traditional eating habits towards a potato-heavy diet. Do not be surprised if your Irish friend asks you to get a Yellow packet of Lays’ from India. If it’s not salt, it’s definitely vinegar. You should be subjected to a bowl of fries with lots of salt and a shower of vinegar, must you want a pure Irish tingle for your taste buds. 


Much like the food, the country displays a light-hearted persistence to prevail. The gunshot wall - wounds to the period General Post Office, the gaping globe in the heart of Trinity College, the college-going buskers of Grafton Street, the littered statues of Oscar Wilde in St. Stephen’s Green, the cheer of Croke Park – you will feel the hint of a people who have fought to survive, choose to laugh at their daily blunders and demonstrate the humility of the ancient urban world long gone. Dublin has the joy of a village cricket maidan, the music of today’s Roman Colosseum, the vibrance of the Parisian township, the sport of Madison Square on the open field and the food of what Gordon Ramsay would like Jamie Oliver to serve. Your experience is an opera in the Royal Albert Hall. 


In a few decades, I feel the townspeople will eagerly push Dublin County to become a city-state. That’s how integral the city’s surroundings are to its character. From the heart of the city, The Spire of O’Connell Street, you can fly up to the lighthouse of Howth because you want some ice cream, jog off to the pebble beach of Bray and watch seagulls steal your fish-n-chips (salted and vinegared!) or hike up the trail of Glendalough to serve your picnic-desires. If these free-falling experiences aren’t up to your speed, take a soldier’s right-turn into Henry Street and shop as if you’re in an LA alley. That being said, you should surely stalk the Dublin City Today channel on YouTube and visit your favourite buskers on Grafton, with a Butler’s drink for company. 


You will never feel the place until you pull that umbrella down and let Dublin hit you in the face. The umbrella creates a sense of privacy around you – abhor it if you wish to be a Dubliner. Quit your spice and ask for the salt. Your headphones are better used as mufflers, up against the buskers. The orderly chaos that these people have naturally created is the urban planners’ dream – these are people who have ingrained the revolution in their culture, chosen to live it every day and decided to live the life of poets. You’re going to Pompeii, with a splash of colour.  

 

Rudra Agarwal (23rd Batch: 2018-19) 

Morgan Freeman had once said, "Let us never know what old age is. Let us know the happiness time brings, not count the years. "Dublin Exchange programme 19 was one of the most thrilling roller-coaster rides I have ever been on. From spending hours after school practising to going on village trips together, it was all part of the ride I got on. The Dublin Exchange is one of the most prestigious events held in our school every year. Getting selected for it was like a dream come true for me.

One of the most or rather THE most vital part of the journey was community service, in Kolkata as well as in Dublin. In Kolkata, I worked at the 'Little Sisters of The Poor', an old age home that looks after homeless and unwanted elderly people. From cleaning fans to serving food, my companions and I did all that we could to make the residents comfortable. We conversed with the aged people there to make them feel content and happy. Working in Dublin was nothing like I had ever experienced before. Mount Hybla's Nursing Home was one and of its kind. The authorities over there did all they could, and we joined in as well as comforting them to our utmost capability. From conducting activities to organizing parties, Rishab Dugar and I had the best time we could possibly have in Dublin.


"Learning is the key to success" - Stan Lee. There was much for me to learn from working for the aged in Kolkata as well as in Dublin. 'Uncle John' we called him, a resident of The Little Sisters of the Poor, had once told me "It does not matter how many marks you get in your exams or how good you are at sports, what matters is that you have love in your heart, love and respect for elders". Aunt May was the friendliest woman in the nursing home in Dublin, who was willing to share all her stories with us. She always used to say one thing in particular "Always love your grandparents because they are the ones who are ready to do anything for you". Overall, I learned about how important grandparents are and how I need to give them more attention, as they perhaps might not have much time left with us and that I should attend to all their needs and make them feel more comfortable.

Working for the aged was a first for me and there were times when I would have an outbreak of emotions thinking about my grandparents. My grand aunt recently passed away and she was very dear to me so whenever I would talk to Aunt May I would remember her, leading to tears dripping down my face. Seeing her smile, her energy and her liveliness, I would go back in time to remember the times I spent with my grand aunt. Watching Uncle John's laughter would bring a smile to my face and make my heart glow with joy.

Working for these helpless, retired, elderly citizens helped me overpower my innate sense of selfishness and a new virtue was born, of caring for others and being selfless. I would like to conclude by quoting Aldous Huxley, who once said - "The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the losing child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm". The Dublin Exchange Program has indeed renewed my enthusiasm in social service and care.

 

Naman Poddar (22nd Batch: 2017-18)

The association between the two prestigious educational institutions St. Xavier’s, Kolkata, and Belvedere College, Dublin, can be traced 22 years back and over this vast period of time, a deep sense of companionship and brotherhood has been fostered.


This association entails an exchange programme, which involves hosting students from Belvedere college by the students of St. Xavier’s Collegiate School and vice versa. The main agendas of this exchange have been carving the overall personality of each participant by exposing them to a novel culture, engaging them in community service, and giving impetus to their growing sense of independence and maturity. To that extent, the programme facilitates the completion of thirty hours of social service; acquiring sponsorships devoid of parental help; navigating through new places and relationships, and cultivating insights into the realities of life through activities such as village trips to Pandua, West Bengal.


Recounting our experiences, it all started with a round of nerve racking interviews followed by a prolonged period of anxious months. This wait came to a halt only on September 28, when the selected group couldn’t take their eyes off or contain their excitement upon seeing their names put up in bold capital letters on the bulletin board.


Cutting straight to the most integral aspect of the programme is community service. It culminated into bringing a sum total involvement in our attitude towards life. Be it feeding the differently-abled; imparting our humble knowledge to orphaned kids or getting the rare opportunity of being inspired by the most resourceful layer of the society, senior citizens, A thought that would always reverberate in our minds would be that, how ungrateful we are to all the blessings that have been bestowed upon us.


In no time that hour arrived in November when we were to welcome our brothers who were flying down from the Emerald Isle to the City of Joy. We still remember those jitters of excitement coupled with nervousness about what the coming two weeks would hold for us. It is hard to point out a specific instance, which may have led to the bond that we all ended up sharing. Was it the frequent meetings in KEC (Chowdhury Estate), our selected locale for drops and pickups; was it the discussions and debates we laughed and cried over or just the fact that despite the differences that separated us, there was an innate need for exchanging love and warmth, which made our stay at each other's places memorable. We were unaware that our perspective on humanity was to observe a gradual change.


Then the trip to Pandua in February marked our first tryst with village life. We learnt the routine and issues plaguing villagers first hand which led to the shaking realisation that at the end of the day, those whom we met are not poor but they are rich; rich not with printed pieces of paper but with their never dying spirit and ever flowing faith in the goodness of this world. If we, the self-proclaimed better part of the world, imbibe even half the qualities, we would surely contribute to making this world a better place.


It was not long before that we saw ourselves practising songs and packing our bags for Dublin. In retrospect, today I can say that on May 19, I was blessed with a second set of family. The time spent with O’Neills has a special place in my heart. The role played by each member in this process cannot be overstated. My Irish mother, Maria left no stones unturned in caring for me. My Irish father, Sean made sure that he satisfied my vegetarian tooth, honing his vegetarian cooking daily. My Irish brother, Cillian was the soundboard to my thoughts and jokes and finally my Irish pet, Junho, was the cherry on one of the best cakes of my life. 


As a part of the programme, every day we had to work in our respective institutions as volunteers. I along with one more worked in Nazareth House, an old age home for people suffering from dementia. Our role was to be a part of their daily activities in a way that cheered them up, never had I thought that small deeds like walking them to and fro, playing darts or talking on certain topics could make us realise something in the bigger picture that happiness has no requirements, it’s us who create it as these old folks though separated from their families tried to find a family amongst themselves and that very special moment which made them feel happier.


On a completely personal note, this programme helped us become self-reliant. So as we said goodbye to Dublin and all the memories we have created, we feel so fulfilled that we have been able to live these stories of green avenues and rainy afternoons for ourselves and have come back with a few of our own.

 

Chinmaya Nathany (18th Batch: 2013-14)

16 May 2014, the day 15 young boys of Class 10 of St. Xavier’s Collegiate School were waiting for almost a year. Today, it pains me when I am referred to as a member of the ‘past’ Dublin batch. This program, readers, was more than just a program. It was a life changing experience and more than anything else, we learned that the dotted (imaginary) boundaries dividing the map of the world are truly only imaginary.


I distinctly remember, on the flight from Dubai to Dublin, all that the 15 of us were discussing was that ‘awkward moment’ when we would meet our host families for the first time and how we would begin to interact with them. Today, a few months later, when I think about the way the Irish hosted me, I can say with utmost confidence that it was like our OWN parents, brothers and sisters would have. The awkward moment that we were all worried about wasn’t awkward at all. I was welcomed with open arms by my host brother, Ethan Foley, whose father happened to be the Principal of Belvedere College, the school with which we have this program. At first, when I got to know about this, I was hesitant and worried as to how it would be to stay in the same house as the Principal of Belvedere College. However, as I look back in time, I say with full surety that these 15 days of being hosted by the family were the best days of my life and I would grab every possible opportunity to relive those days.  On the drive back home from the Dublin Airport, my Irish Father (The Principal of Belvedere) Mr. Gerry Foley asked me about all my likes and dislikes and said that they would try, as far as possible, to live by my likes and dislikes. And that is exactly what happened. In the 2 weeks that I was there, my family did anything within their reach and beyond to ensure that I was happy and had a gala time. 


Let me give you an example of this. I, being vegetarian, could have only vegetarian food and this, as I learned, isn't exactly what Irish culture permits. However, as soon as I informed my host family that I was vegetarian, the reply was “Okay, no meat for us for two weeks!”.  Not only that, even when I had returned to Calcutta after the trip was over, I received a message from my Irish mother saying that they had completely forgotten that I wasn’t staying with them anymore and that she was searching for vegetarian options at the supermarket. Such was the level of connection I had developed with the family in less than 2 weeks and it was surely overwhelming. 

My host family took me all around Dublin and spoke as openly with me as they would have spoken to their own son. They were ready to take me wherever I wanted to go, irrespective of how convenient or inconvenient it was. They asked me about life in India and I learned that they respected India, and especially Indians, contrary to what many people believe. My Irish brother was really fun to be with and left no stone unturned to make sure that I had no problem whatsoever during my 16 day visit to Dublin. They repeatedly asked me if there was anything at all they could do to make me more comfortable, but honestly, I couldn’t be more comfortable than I already was. However much I offered to contribute to their household chores, my request was always turned down and they made sure that I was burdened with the least possible work (or no work at all) during my stay. Most importantly, in the 16 days in Dublin, my family gave me the experience of being a CITIZEN of Ireland, an experience of a lifetime. From the times of playing FIFA 14 with my Irish Brother to the bus trips back from work every day, I will remember and cherish each and every memory forever. The only question that arises in our minds at this time is “Why can’t we go again?” 


However, none of the memories and those ever-lasting relations would exist today without the help of my sponsors. I want to thank each and every sponsor of mine without whom, this trip would not have been possible for me and the summer of 2014 would have been just another summer vacation. Also, special thanks should definitely go to St. Xavier’s Collegiate School and Belvedere College for keeping this program going for 18 long years and hopefully, many more to come. I also want to especially thank Mr. Somnath Dhar and Mrs. Anurita Chakraborty for making this program an amazing experience for all of us.

 

Varun Bapat (21st Batch: 2016-17)

The prospect of travelling to a completely unknown foreign land at the reckless age of fourteen was my imagination. Getting selected for the 21st Dublin Student Exchange Program in September 2016 did not only overwhelm the fifteen of us but also gave us a sense of responsibility. Headed by Ms Fernandes, the fifteen selected students were ready to take off for a journey of adventure, learning and exploring. 


The first task was to start looking for companies that would provide us with sponsorships to cover fifty per cent of the program's cost. This made us polish our communication skills and boost our confidence. Alongside the first task, we were expected to finish thirty hours of community service in Calcutta. My peers and I realised the plight of the elderly living in the old age homes of our city. Some were ousted from their own homes and had no place to go, while some had no one to look after. Despite the hardships, they always carried a smile on their face and were eternally grateful for whatever they had. 


With November arrived the fifteen delegates from Belvedere College, Dublin, whom we were to host in our humble homes. The initial days required both parties to adjust, but eventually, all the pieces fell into place. Much to our delight, the Irish were fascinated by the Indian cuisine and also the countless cultures. They thoroughly enjoyed their fifteen-day stay, which included trips to New Market, Social Service and the farewell program organised by St. Xavier's.


The next plan was the Village Trip in February the following year. This gave us a deep insight into the living conditions of the people in rural West Bengal. We got a chance to teach the underprivileged and also toured around the village. In May, we were all set to fly to Dublin – a land full of possibilities and probabilities. The ethereal sense of freedom and the beautiful surroundings left us all in awe. 


Community Service in Dublin was entirely dissimilar from that in India, and they believed that optimism and manifestation was the cure to any disease. We visited Glendalough, where nature's beauty was at its best. The family I stayed with was welcoming, and they told us all about Irish culture- the origin of leprechauns, the history behind the Hill of Tara and much more. 


The different aspects and values instilled in us throughout this exchange program have given us a lesson for a lifetime. The whole experience will indubitably be a once in a lifetime kind.  The memories made, lessons learnt, and places visited will be carried to the grave. The ongoing pandemic might have paused the student project. I still believe once things get better, the junior batches will be able to experience the pride of representing one school on an international level.

 

Naman Jain (23rd Batch: 2018-19)

The 23rd Dublin Exchange is definitely one of the most influencing events in my life. Within a span of eight months (November 2018 June 2019), I have learnt a lot that cannot be condensed in just a page. These newfound experiences vary from communication skills, new friendships and a sense of social service. From hosting Stephen in November to being a guest at the Nicholl household, this journey has been in a nutshell, an ecstatic and a euphoric one.

 On the 19th of September, fifteen of us were relieved to see our names on the list of selected students for the exchange. After that, a month and a half of rigorous practices of songs, thirty hours of social service and collecting sponsorships, 10th November came and I met Stephen Fay. Hosting Stephen was an experience that I truly cherish. He was an amazing guest and always shared his stories with us about his family or his day. I remember him praising a girl he taught where he was working, learning some Bengali words and the names of a few Indian dishes. I vividly remember the last night of his stay with us when we played cards till 1 a.m. and talked till 2 a.m. Then came the village trip which was a different experience altogether. At Chamrusai we taught students of classes III, IV and V. Managing the class and placing ourselves in the shoes of our teachers really brought out our mature sides.

Now speeding up to my stay in Dublin with Colm Nicholl and his family. I wish to relive every single moment of these 15 days. I remember Colm and his mother, Catherine, being shocked and transfixed when I told them that Jains don't eat ground roots, and how relieved they were when I informed them that I did though. From cycling in Phoenix Park with Colm, Jack, Ruari, Keshav and Vishesh for straight three hours to touring the city on a cold rainy day with Colm, these experiences are just not expressible in words alone. Colm and I played football on his Xboxhas and Spit (a card game Stephen taught me). I remember him boasting about winning in Spit. His family and I watched a reality show (I think it was called Eurovision) and a show where The Dubliners were playing. One of the billion highlights of this trip was the constant trip to Butler's Cafe by the fifteen of us. Colm's family even took me to a church to see a choir concert in which his sister was participating. I remember meeting Colm's grandmother and his aunt whose love and warmth really made me feel at home. And how can I forget Jini the dog (who went by several names Jini, Jin Jin, Jinster)! She was the one who gave me a hearty welcome every time I stepped foot into the house. 

This exchange program provided me with values and new bonds, bonds that are now present in the deepest trenches of my heart. My interaction with Stephen and Colm was indeed something that is captured in the frame of eternity

 

Eashan Shah (19th Batch: 2014-15)

The first time I had heard about the Dublin exchange experience was from my older brother and since then I was very intrigued by the kind of exposure I could get if I was selected for this programme. I was one of the 15 lucky guys from my batch who got the opportunity to be a part of the Dublin exchange programme and it changed my life. The kind of exposure and cultural exchange I experienced here was surreal. The good part about the programme is that it does not bar anyone and people from all walks of life can have a fair chance at being a part of this exchange. Raising sponsorship funds for the trip makes it easy and helps everyone selected. 

Anyone having second thoughts about this should never hold themselves back and should definitely apply for this exchange as it will be the opportunity of a lifetime while you’re still at school. 

I would like to end this with a quote that very accurately describes my time in Dublin - “ we didn’t realise we were making memories, we were just having fun”