On a trip to Germany in April, 18-year-old Veerali Patel learnt that beer was cheaper than water in restaurants there. She also learnt about the cultural vastness of a whole new country.
Patel was not on a regular vacation to a tourist hub. As part of a five-week cultural exchange trip, she lived with the Kees family in a small German town of Marktobrdof. “I ate local food, attended festivals, learned to speak German better, and performed daily chores at my host family’s house, she said. “Germans have a large appetite and I could only finish half-servings of meals. Schnitzel, a boneless meat dish, was my favourite.”
Such exchange programmes are a popular choice for students who want to experience foreign cultures. City organisations such as Rotary clubs and Lion’s clubs, have been giving students the opportunity to go on such trips. Aimed at students between ages 15 and 19 years, the exchange programmes could range from a few weeks to three months. The programmes are usually held during the summer holidays and involve living with a local host family.
“For students to be chosen for the programme, they must have good communication skills and be open-minded. Host families may be curious about the student's culture, so brushing up on Indian customs and traditions helps,” said Rajneesh Anand, chairperson of Rotary International Youth Exchange Wing.
Attending a youth camp, where students from all over the world visit a country together, is also an option. Last July, Samruddhi Bade, 20, visited France with 26 international students. “The theme of our trip was the environment. We visited enterprises that promote sustainable development.” She also learnt about the cultures of her fellow-participants. “Music and dance unite people from diverse cultures. We performed Lavni, the traditional Maharashtrian dance, in Paris and the French loved it.”
Shruti Kakaria, 19, a resident of Vapi in Gujarat, spent a month in Germany last year.
“My foster family treated me like a family member. I learnt to cook traditional German dishes,” she said. “When my host’s daughter came to India, she lived with my family.”
A basic knowledge of the local language might help avoid awkward situations. “I once pronounced gute nacht (good night in German) in a way that it sounded like ‘you look good naked’,” laughed Kakaria.