India exchange has successful first year

By Rutul Patel
Published: May 2010

Over the course of the last eight months, the South community worked actively to create an exchange program with St. Marks Senior High School in India.

The effort paid off when in early December, five South students traveled to St. Marks in New Delhi and in late April, 15 Indian students came to South.

The exchange took rigorous planning on behalf of students and faculty alike, but ran smoothly and successfully in its inaugural year.

Assistant Principal Purnima Vadhera had wanted to offer students a school-based exchange program with India for several years.

Though her idea remained dormant for some time, it was recently brought to reality by senior Marsha Patel. Vadhera mentioned the topic in conversation, and Patel took the idea and developed it.

“Ms. Vadhera was working and she mentioned the idea. [Hearing it], I pounced at the opportunity, Patel said.

She had always wanted to go on an exchange trip and was eager to play a role in the India exchange’s creation. With the help of senior Erika Eldrenkamp, Patel began working on the project. Eldrenkamp had already been on a different trip to India through the school and her experience was of value.

“[One of the things] difficult about this project is that it was done in such little time. Most exchange programs takes at a minimum one year to plan, but we had to finish ours in a little over six months, Patel said.

To help with the project and to finish it within their time constraints, Patel and Eldrenkamp used the China Exchange Program Hand Book as a guide. They learned from it and made a similar version for the India trip. The China Hand Book, dubbed the Exchange Bible by Patel and Eldrenkamp, held helpful information and forms ranging from “adapting to life in a different country to “rules and regulation and “time differences.

The process of producing a handbook for the India Program was tedious. It began in mid-May of 2009 and carried through the summer to October. Patel and Eldrenkamp spent time over the summer making final changes and creating a survival guide for the other students.

While Patel and Eldrenkamp were busy putting together the handbook, other teachers were eager to lend a hand. English teacher Rachel Becker went on a professional trip to India and brought back information on the school that South students would eventually visit.

Becker also scouted residential areas and made sure that the school’s facilities made it comfortable enough for South students to use them on a day to day basis.

Biology teacher Madhumita Bhattacharya also played an important role early in the program by helping with planning and booking airfare.

The project faced a minor setback at the beginning of the school year with the change in school administration.

“Mr. Salzer had already approved of [the trip] but Mr. Stembridge had no idea, Patel said.

Although Patel was worried this could cause delays, she was glad to find out that Stembridge supported this and approved of it immediately. By Mid-October the project had been revealed to the student body and was received warmly.

The group expected eight to ten people to travel to India but only five signed up, however.

On December 10 Patel, Eldrenkamp, junior Rachel Schy, senior Clair Barnewolt, and senior Wenqi Feng pioneered the exchange trip to India. There, the group spent three weeks and immersed themselves in Indian culture. They saw not only landmarks such as the Taj Mahal, but the famed Indian slums as well.

Four months after the group’s journey to India, Indian students from St. Marks came to America on April 22. For all of the exchange students, it was their first time not just in America but out of their own country. On their 21 day trip, they spent two weeks at South.

“It was a great experience and a very warm welcome, Indian exchange student Kunal Ahuja said. “There were many differences, but it seemed more like an [alternate take] on life. Nothing bad.

Much like South students, the Indian exchange students also witnessed vast differences in culture. After, some mentioned that they plan to receive their college education in America.

“[Even though it was just a pilot] it looks like more and more people are going to India through the school, Patel said, alluding to the chorus’ trip to India.

“Hopefully someone will take leadership next year and continue the program because it’s important we make connections [with different cultures], Patel said.

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