King’s summer exchanges expand student horizons

The Round Square summer exchange program at King’s Academy achieved a new milestone this summer as nine students – up from last year’s record six – journeyed to Australia, India and South Africa for the adventure of a lifetime.

For the first time, King’s exchange students travelled to India. Helana Al-Maqusi ’17 and Sama Issa ’18 attended Woodstock School in Landour while Maral Masarweh ’17 attended Vivek High School in Chandigar. The girls stayed with host families, which they describe as “the best part of their journey” and also boarded at the schools for part of their four-week stay. They gave talks about Jordan and immersed themselves in Indian culture, making friends, savoring local cuisine and experiencing day-to-day life. They noted how welcoming Indians are, “just like Arabs”. A particular highlight was dressing in saris and joining local celebrations to mark India’s Independence Day on August 15. The girls also visited famous landmarks including the Taj Mahal, which they describe as “amazing”.

The experience was not without its challenges, however. Having had to climb very steep hills every day to get to her school in the mountainous Landour region, Al-Maqusi said: “I’m so happy that King’s is flat!”

Qingyi Lou ’18, Ramsey Abdulrahim ’18 and Yuxuan Cao ’18 travelled to Johannesburg, South Africa where they stayed with host families or boarded while attending Roedean School, St. Stithians Boys College and the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls respectively. The students were impressed by how welcoming everyone was and how easy it was to fit in. As they explored South African culture and traditions, they learned a lot by getting to know their fellow students and host families and by interacting with people during trips, such as to traditional marketplaces. They also celebrated Nelson Mandela Day and visited local attractions including Cape Town, Table Mountain National Park, the Cape of Good Hope and its castle, Durban’s stunning beaches, and were stunned by the wildlife during a safari at Lion and Safari Park.   

“My favorite part was the friendships,” said Cao of her South African adventure. “I really love the girls and they exposed me to their culture through the stories they told me, and through their art and dance program which was really impressive. It was really interesting to talk to them and tell them a bit about Jordan, King’s and also about China.”

Despite her surprise at how cold it was in Johannesburg and some of its extreme weather – such as huge rocks of hail - Lou felt at home at the end of her five-week visit, thanks to the hospitality of her host family. She also loved Roedean’s music department and joined the Glee Club and performed a piano recital for the whole school during her stay.

“When you go on exchange you are exposed to something unknown,” said Lou. “When you stay for a longer period of time, you get to know people who have different perspectives and different social activities and ways of life. It was a brand new experience for me, and I learned a lot.”

Mohammad Shdaifat ’18, Tiameke Dudley ’17 and Laith Al Hadeed ’18 spent a number of weeks down under, attending Scotch College in Perth, Ballarat Grammar School in Melbourne and the Armidale School in New South Wales, Australia respectively. It was Shdaifat’s first time on exchange, an experience he calls “amazing”.

“What is nice about the exchange is that you might have stereotypical ideas about the place and people, but it shows you what it is really like,” Shdaifat said. “I thought you just go to school and spend your summer studying but it’s not like that. It’s a rich experience going to a new environment where you are connecting and analyzing what you see so you can build actual ideas. That’s the best part of being an exchange. I’m telling everyone to do it.”

Having visited South Africa last year, this was Dudley’s second exchange, but there were still some surprises in store.

“I didn’t think Australian culture would be that different from my own, but it turned out to be really different,” he said. “Getting to see how and where people live, you get a sense of who they are, and you get to be a part of that.”

For Al Hadeed it wasn’t just his first exchange but also his first time travelling alone.

“I didn’t want to stay in my comfort zone, I want to see other countries, explore the world and learn more. It is this whole concept of being independent,” he said.

The students each visited many local tourism sights, but it was Shdaifat who covered the most distance during a five-day, 2200 km road trip with his host family, where he was awed by a tree top walk in the Valley of the Giants and visited Wave Rock. Shdaifat also participated in his school’s weekly community service projects, which included planting trees along a land bridge to provide safe passage for animals, and volunteering at a school for non-English speakers.

All three students were fascinated by the Australian passion for sports. Dudley enjoyed attending his first Australian Football League game. Al Hadeed, meanwhile, ran a challenging 14 km marathon along Sydney’s coastline along with 8,000 participants, including every student and teacher at his exchange school, Armidale.      

Each of the nine students had a fascinating and unique, life-changing experience during their summer exchange. However, there was one common thread throughout. They all expressed a greater appreciation for their homes, families and Jordan. While there were a lot of practices at the other schools that they wanted to bring back to King’s, such as “less homework and more sleep”, they realized that King’s makes them “more productive and achieve more”, and that their summer exchange made them appreciate King’s Academy more than ever.