New Zealand schools benefit from AFS Educator Exchange Programme

Recently, two teachers from Delhi, India, Miti Dhingra and Namrata Markan, visited New Zealand to experience Kiwi hospitality and life in New Zealand schools thanks to an AFS educator exchange programme. Adventurous and outgoing, Miti and Namrata used the opportunities of their three week trip to the absolute full, and will take the lessons they have learned back to India to inspire their pupils and fellow teachers. The pair visited schools and cultural attractions in Wellington, Nelson and Blenheim as they learned what it was to be a New Zealander. Their jam-packed schedule included visits to Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington, forays into extreme sports and days spent in New Zealand classrooms, connecting with students and teachers. Miti and Namrata, now home in Delhi, will cherish their time in New Zealand for a lifetime and take the lessons they have learned in New Zealand back to benefit their Indian students.

The teachers were very impressed by New Zealand’s ‘melting pot’ culture, and believe that Kiwi kids are at an advantage due to their exposure to a rainbow of cultures, languages and customs.

“It is a small country in the corner of the world, but it is the most cosmopolitan,” says Namrata. She believed that her students in New Delhi could learn from Kiwi kids’ culturally-aware outlook, and was eager to pass her experiences on to her students.

Miti and Namrata were particularly useful in one classroom, where the students were studying India for their NCEA exams. Taking over from textbooks for the day, the visitors were able to impart first-hand knowledge of India and its culture which will no doubt aid those students in their exams. It is personal touches and unique sources of knowledge and learning like this that make educator exchanges so valuable to all those involved. Miti and Namrata are so grateful for the opportunity to connect with Kiwi students and teachers on such a personal level, as insiders rather than tourists. They now have a fantastic understanding of the dynamics of New Zealand’s education system and the relationship between student and teacher, which they say is very different in India due to the size of their classrooms.

The teachers loved connecting with the students they visited, particularly through activities such as dance. Miti and Namrata taught students a few traditional Indian dance moves, and in return learnt a little hip-hop, though they readily admit that they were very poor students.
“But in that moment, the barriers had absolutely gone down. At that moment I could feel like I was a part of their lives,” says Miti. Through activities such as dance, the pair truly came to realise that despite the myriad differences between a Kiwi teen and an Indian teen, some things are universal.

“A 17 year old is a 17 year old anywhere. They always want to do what you tell them not to do,” says Miti, and Namrata nods knowingly. 

The teachers particularly enjoyed the unrestrained curiosity of younger children, glad to answer questions that adults shied from asking.  They also appreciate the relationships they have built with their host families. Prue Elwood, who orchestrated Miti and Namrata’s trip, also believes that there is great value in hosting adult AFS participants as great relationships can be fostered.

The teachers were interested in the things Indian schools could learn from New Zealand. In particular, they praised the flexibility of our school curricula which give teachers the opportunity to innovate in their classrooms and give students the opportunity to absorb knowledge in ways that are relevant to them. Indian schools are more rigid in their implementation of curricula, and Miti and Namrata would like to see change in India towards the flexibility allowed in New Zealand classrooms.

In return, the teachers thought that New Zealand schools could learn from the competitive culture of India’s education system. Due to the sheer number of students who will one day enter the Indian workforce, it is important that students are exposed to their opportunities from a young age. As a result, say Miti and Namrata, most senior students in India are very sure of where they would like their future career to lead and are highly driven towards these goals.

When not visiting schools, Miti and Namrata sought to experience the New Zealand passion for sport. Visiting New Zealand in the midst of Rugby World Cup mania, the two were initially bemused by the sport, but were quick to identify kinships between New Zealand’s sporting culture and India’s; no strangers to the concept of sporting as a religion, they compared New Zealand’s reverence of rugby to India’s passion for cricket.

During their trip, it has become apparent to Miti and Namrata that although they are teachers, conscious teaching is secondary to their work. In order to teach, they must first connect, and connection comes with acceptance. In their view, New Zealanders are bound together as a nation of immigrants. At Te Papa, Miti and Namrata learned about the waves of immigration that have formed the New Zealand populace and believe that this is a great tool for teaching cultural acceptance.

”Everyone has moved here, so it binds everybody,” says Miti, “it helps the acceptance factor.”

With the help of the AFS community, the visiting teachers gained immediate acceptance in the environments they visited, and were therefore able to teach and learn with ease. As insiders, Miti and Namrata were able to participate in a world that would have been closed to them as tourists, and they are grateful. They are also eager to offer the same experience to New Zealand teachers visiting India.

AFS’s connections with schools throughout the globe mean that an educator exchange programme can be tailored to meet the needs of individual teachers, and all parties can gain the most from the programme. The benefit of an AFS educator exchange does not end when the educators return to their home country – in many senses, that is only the beginning of the journey. By talking to their students about their experiences abroad, and implementing teaching techniques they have learned, Miti and Namrata are able to inspire hundreds of young students to broaden their horizons through international exchanges. This is paramount for Miti and Namrata, who believe that the changes a person experiences while travelling are important lessons for young people.

“Although India is diverse in itself, we have the tendency to become insular. It is important for students to challenge their mental barriers and learn that there is a world outside India.”

AFS is active in their schools in India, and the teachers often encourage their students to participate in AFS exchanges. Programmes such as AFS’s educator exchanges are no easy feat to organise, but Prue Elwood is glad to be able to offer such opportunities to teachers from all over the globe. In addition, AFS works to send New Zealand teachers abroad, including to destinations such as India so that they may be enriched. Exchanges such as Miti and Namrata’s are beneficial for the AFS network, too, as the connections made can broaden the possibilities that AFS can offer to students and teachers. Prue is keen to expand the area of educator exchanges, as their value to everyone involved is immense.

Miti and Namrata, now home in Delhi, will no doubt encourage and inspire countless students and teachers to take the trip of a lifetime with AFS. The links they have formed in New Zealand during their short trip will be cherished, and thanks to AFS the world is one step closer to becoming a global village.