Mrs. Sandhya Sinha
I was extremely fortunate to be a part of the 23rd Dublin Exchange Programme, 2018-2019. As the teacher-in-charge this year, it has indeed been an enriching experience for me, both here in Kolkata and in Dublin and in the event, I gained the friendship of some lovely Irish men and women.
This exchange programme highlights the importance of serving others and understanding the setbacks that the less fortunate face. Spending two nights and three days in a remote village in Chamrusai, Midnapore, and interacting with wide-eyed innocent children living happily with stringent resources in a strikingly different environment was an eyeopener for our students who come from fast moving, complex and digitalised environments. It also gave them an opportunity to come close to nature and to experience the freshness of the village atmosphere and to understand some of the aspects of rural livelihood. The discipline and punctuality maintained by these 4- to 9-year-old inmates of Premananda Ashram were exemplary.
The two main aspects of this exchange programme are - hosting a student from Dublin for 15 days in the month of November and then staying and interacting with an Irish family in Dublin, for 15 days in the month of May. This gives both the teams an opportunity to observe, understand and experience the varied culture, food, thoughts and outlook of these strikingly different societies. It also allows them to work in different community centres and primary schools, helping the weak, the old and the sick with the same goal in mind, "to give unto others, the little that they have received" and evolve as 'true men for others'. It gives all the students participants of this programme, a great sense of fulfilment through the opportunity to give back to society some of the benefits that they have received from it, thus upholding the Xaverian ethos.
For most of our students, going to Dublin without being accompanied by their parents was their first stay away from home. It has taught them to be independent and self-reliant. The transformation that our students undergo as a result of this hands-on experience is so striking that I have had parents telling me how pleased they were for having allowed their sons to be a part of this wonderful experience.
Mr. Santanu Jana
13th May 2017 is a day that will remain in my memory forever. Fifteen students guided by Fr. Sebastian Nallail, Ms Beverly Fernandes and I boarded a flight to Dublin for the experience of a lifetime. We were all excited and looking forward to the days ahead.
The preparations for our exchange programme started in the month of September 2016. The students were first taken for a visit to a village in Bardhaman district so that they could understand what rural life was all about and they could themselves get acclimated to a setting diametrically opposite to their own. This exercise has been a part of the training programme for the students to show them the challenges that exist and the ability to cope with the odds that present themselves.
With all preparations in place, we took off for the Emerald Isle, with smiles on our faces and a skip in our hearts. After reaching Dublin we rested for a day to get over our jetlag. From the following day, extended till 27th May, the boys visited their allotted centres for their community service program. This helped them in developing a sense of responsibility and gained the experience to work in groups. With every visit they learnt to feel, to care and to serve the marginalised and the suffering in such institutions as the old-age homes, day-care centres and nursing homes.
They visited schools for the specially challenged children and enjoyed thoroughly spending time with them, guiding them and helping them in all their work. During the entire period, the students were so involved in the work that they did not for a moment feel that they were thousands of miles away from their own homes, their families and friends.
For me, it was a great learning experience in discipline, punctuality, dedication and devotion to work.
Mrs. Beverly Fernandes
Looking back at my two years of experience, as a teacher participant in the Dublin Student Exchange Programme, is akin to looking through a kaleidoscope; a colourful, shifting set of visuals in the mind’s eye.
What has never ceased to make me wonder is the interest and eagerness of our students to be selected as participants in this enterprise. It is extremely gratifying to us teachers when we shortlist candidates from the host of bright-eyed Xaverians. It is also quite heartrending to disappoint the unfortunate ones who didn’t make the cut.
Only the parents of the selected boys will be able to adequately explain the months of preparation from then on. With encouraging words and helpful suggestions they cooperate with the teachers, urging our selected students to visit different companies and philanthropists in the quest for sponsors for the trip. It is the generosity of such parents and collaborators that make this endeavour financially possible.
One aspect of this enterprise is the learning and serving principle that underlines the programme. Our students imbibe the value of humble servitude, either in the Old People’s Homes or the cells of the Missionaries of Charity. This helps bring our students face to face with the harsh realities of life to see and instinctively help the poor, the helpless and the abandoned. It is with this aim in mind that we strive to bring forward men for others, instead of selfish gain-seekers.
The second aspect of this enterprise is the hosting of the Irish students in November. It is worth the pains of their late-night arrival to observe the eagerness and interest in every minute detail, as they deplane and huddle together with their ever-smiling teacher-guides. Our students and their parents get the single opportunity to host these fair visitors to our shores and introduce them to our good, old Indian hospitality and cuisine. We can proudly claim that they have even relished on our international culinary claims to fame: Puchkas, Kati rolls, Lucchi Aloo Dum, to the temporary discomfiture of their digestive traces. But it is all taken sportingly in the ever-satisfying cause of World Peace and International Understanding!
The culmination of all the preparation, rehearsals, visits, hosting, singing, laughter and a few disappointments (for where can there be perfection in this world?) is the moment when our aircraft taxis along the runway at the Dublin airport. To see the bright-eyed, cheerful expression on the faces of the Irish teachers and students is worth circumnavigating the world twice over!
Ireland! A country of mists, dreams, the shamrock, leprechauns and open-handed generosity. Their care for the orphans, the aged, the socially marginalised, is an exercise in civic consciousness for us all. Truly, the adage that ‘travel broadens the mind’ is a living entity even as we partake of the justly famed Irish hospitality. The days pass in a technicolour whirl of varied experiences, as our Irish visit winds down to a close. As the moment of departure closes in on us, we are conscious of feeling immense gratitude to the Almighty. We finally depart with a pocketful of contact numbers and a memory of joyful events and faces.
Mr. Farino Torcato
The student exchange programme between Belvedere College, Dublin, Ireland and St. Xavier's Collegiate School, Kolkata, India is certainly a truly educational one. It provides transforming experience to each and every student selected for this programme .They set out as young boys and return as matured adults.
I have been highly privileged as being the only teacher in St. Xavier's Collegiate School since the inception of this exchange programme to have been an integral part of their consecutive batches who have visited Belvedere College. This exchange programme has made our students realise that there is a “home beyond home.” They could not have asked more from life.
In the first year I visited Belvedere College in 2004. I was under the able leadership of Mr. Ashok Samajpati. He was a true Xaverian example of being a 'man for others' .In a very short time we made friends with the priests in Belvedere -Fr. Liam McKenna , Fr. D. Cassidy and Br. J. Marks. The Irish team of teachers - Mr. P. Madden, Mr. G. Murray and Mr. C. Doherty stood behind us like solid rock. It was because of their untiring efforts this exchange programme has continued till date. Over the next two years I realised the main objective of the Dublin Exchange Programme was to instil confidence and build self-reliance in the fifteen students selected for the programme.
For a Xaverian to be chosen for such a programme is nothing short of an honour in itself. Not only is it an amazing experience to stay with an Irish family but there is also the opportunity to work with numerous social and welfare organisations which make this a tremendous learning experience. On this note I would like to reiterate that this exchange programme provides an enriching experience to the child and gives him a new perspective on life .
Mrs. Anurita Chakraborty
It gives me immense pleasure to be a part of the 18th ‘STUDENT EXCHANGE PROGRAMME’ with BELVEDERE COLLEGE DUBLIN. Where we as teachers get a chance to see our boys transforming themselves into responsible individuals. Such a programme evokes a sense of cooperation, adjustment, perseverance, helpfulness and, above all, team spirit.
For me this is a platform where students with different outlooks, backgrounds and attitudes come together for a common goal i.e., “THE COMMUNITY SERVICE '' and I believe that any person who prepares his mind to face the future must possess not only knowledge and self-awareness but also an overwhelming urge to help his fellow beings. When our feelings for others are inspired by love and compassion, the mind becomes beautiful and the spirit elevated. It helps to bring out the innate beauty in our boys and I feel that if such beauty were to be seen in every house, street, ward, town and state, this world would truly become a paradise.
I know that no one is perfect in this world but when our boys sing, work together, try to overcome their individual shortcomings and enjoy their work, as a teacher I feel good. As a member of this team, I have a bonding of love and affection with the boys and their host families which is beyond any caste, creed, colour, language, religion and even the boundaries of the country.
Mr. Ranjit Bhattacharjee
The arch imperialist Rudyard Kipling once wrote, "Oh, East is Fast, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet." The Student Exchange Programme between St. Xavier's Collegiate School and Belvedere College SJ. which is more than two decades old and going stronger than ever has emphatically proved Kipling wrong.
This Programme brings is layered. At one level, it brings exuberant and talented young people from Dublin and Kolkata together. The Indian families host the Irish students and when it is their turn, the Irish families host the Indian students. Friendships are instantly forged and soon friends become brothers. The cultural differences, far from dividing, actually enrich them.
Serving those who are less fortunate in our society lies at the heart of this Exchange Programme. The students of both our institutions reach out to the poor, the weak and the elderly and in the process experience deep spiritual growth. Mahatma Gandhi said it best: "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." It is this spirit of service that binds our people.
When we went to Dublin, I understood the veracity of the humorous Irish saying: “There are only two kinds of people in the world, the Irish and those who wish they were". The Irish are gracious and hospitable. My stay with the Jesuit Community was a blessed experience. The Emerald Isle cast an enduring and enchanting spell over all of us.
It has been gratifying to see fifteen young Xaverians using the opportunities offered by the Exchange Programme to develop various facets of themselves. Be it different people for sponsorships and not meeting losing heart in spite of rejections or working hard on their musical talents and rhetorical skills to put up cultural performances or simply interacting and helping villagers - for the young Xaverians it has been a transformative tour de force. I am proud to say that they have been exemplary ambassadors of their institution and country. They have lived up to the Xaverian ethos of being "Men for others."
This Student Exchange Programme has also been an exciting adventure for all of us but then again adventure is the best way to learn.