SC Middle School Exchange Program

Students spend two weeks crossing state regions, class structures, and cultures by spending time in a new home, close to home, for 2 weeks.

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Ideally, all American students would have a mandatory two-week exchange program across the country. A new region, with new customs will force a new perspective. New perspectives are the seeds of empathy.

To begin, we start on a smaller-scale. Students apply and are matched with a region, family, and community that is different from there own. The students exchange for two weeks and are challenged to adapt, to learn, and to reflect. 

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Photo of Nathan O'Neill
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I love this idea and feel that it doesn't take going across the globe or even the country to experience other cultures. I wonder how a project like this could build support, knowing that it's a very intensive time and life commitment. Maybe there's even a way of doing something like this with students in their home schools?!?

Photo of Ellen Fox
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Thanks Nathan! I was speaking to another person at our ideate meeting and they said the same thing: Columbia alone has such a vast array of experiences that we could all utilize to help us empathize. It would be powerful on a whole-other-level if students could see the vast differences that were just miles away.

I also posted another idea, the idea I think I'd really like to develop and have even spoken to my principal about, if you wouldn't mind checking it out too! Thanks again for the feedback and reflection.

Photo of Ellen Fox
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Erin Quinn Thank you so much for the comment! I love the analogy of the iceberg and how it acknowledges the depths to which our identities are formed. I think that relocating and traveling is one of the most powerful antidotes to single-mindedness, but ONLY if travelers are challenged to engage with locals and get beneath the interpretations of a group of people's behaviors-- the tip of the iceberg. The article you sent also says, "there are also many deeply rooted ideas that we can only understand by analyzing values, studying formative factors, and in many cases, reflecting on our own core values." I think placing students in a household that appears even SLIGHTLY different on the outside will force this analytical experience and, hopefully, prompt reflection. In fact, if this were to lift-off, a reflection component would be key.

I believe cities of a certain size could definitely happen. The city I'm in, Columbia, SC, has some variety. I do know that so many of my students rarely get out of the city, and I think the actual experience of traveling would be incredible for some of them too.

To your last point: that is so funny-- I ALSO thought of Wife Swap!! Who-da-thunk there was a deeper meaning. I guess that show is an iceberg in itself, eh?

Thank you for the comments and feedback. I want to bring that iceberg article into my class now!!

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I live in Calgary, Canada, a city of about 1.4 million people. Right now, I'm in the role of Specialist, where I support schools across my district, which crosses the city. I made a realization as I settled into this new role. As a classroom teacher, I lived and worked in the same quadrant of my city, the SW. My world expanded significantly as I drove around the city, from school to school. I went to neighbourhoods I'd never had a reason to visit before. In particular, I spent a lot of time in our city's NE, where the most high needs neighbourhoods are. I'd never spent much time there before, but now I know where the best Asian supermarket is, and the most delicious Portuguese chicken spot, and the hole-in-the-wall Indian fabric store with the most beautiful textiles. I know that there are delightful children everywhere in this city. I traveled in my own city.

Photo of Erin Quinn
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It just now occurred to me that travel, and especially cross-cultural experiences, are amazing for gaining empathy. This reminds me of the concept of a cultural iceberg: https://www.languageandculture.com/cultural-iceberg

Wouldn't it be interesting to have students dig into some of those formative factors and unobservable interpretations??

Though I love your idea of an exchange, I agree that smaller scale would be more feasible. Would it be possible to build cross-cultural understanding within a school? A city?

Also, this made me come to a weird realization. You know that old show Wife Swap? That was really about building empathy. Strange.