Summer exchanges immerse King’s students in global cultures

This summer the Round Square summer exchange program at King’s Academy gave 11 students the opportunity to embark on the journeys of a lifetime, travelling to Australia, India, South Africa and, for the first time, to Peru, Singapore and Tanzania.

Sevan Balian ’18 participated in “Big Build Tanzania”, a two-week international service project that was part of Round Square International’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Balian was one of 50 students from five continents who came together to work with the local community in Marangu to improve educational facilities and infrastructure at Ng’aroni Primary School.

According to Round Square, international service projects are “a great way for young adults to learn about global citizenship, community engagement, develop a deeper understanding of the world’s problems and experience a new culture.”

That was certainly true for Balian, who described his experience as remarkable. “It made me grow as a person and learn many things,” he said. “First, that helping people is one of the utmost pleasures a human can receive. When I looked back at the work site before leaving, I felt a sense of accomplishment because I knew what I did was for a good cause.”

Community service was also an important part of Ibrahim Muasher ’19’s summer exchange in Singapore; his 25-day trip included volunteering at a hospice, where the residents taught him to play traditional Asian board games. In addition to attending classes at United World College of South East Asia, during his visit Muasher visited local attractions, experienced the adrenaline-rush of zip-lining, and treated his host family to a taste of Jordan with home-made qatayef.

“I always wanted to meet new people and just see something different,” said Muasher, who stayed with two different host families during his trip. “The experience of living with someone there is different to just going as a tourist, it exposes you to much more of the culture.” 

Boarding for four weeks at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa also helped Xu Huang ’19 get to know more about her host country’s culture. In particular, a camping trip to Sugar Bay – where no technology was permitted – really allowed Huang to bond with, and learn more about, her new friends who she said were “so welcoming, they never made me feel like a foreigner or lonely.” In turn, Huang taught them about Chinese and Jordanian culture, and about being a student at King’s.

For Selina Al Masarweh ’19, who attended St. Cyprian’s School in South Africa, the experience made her step outside her comfort zone and try many things for the first time. During her month-long stay, she tasted various local dishes, faced her fear of animals, and went on a road trip with her host family that involved hiking and mountain climbing, and where she learned to “trust nature.”

“Climbing Vogelgat Mountain with my host family was one of the best experiences,” said Al Masarweh. “They are really fast, so I had to run to keep up with them! It taught me to be more energetic; now if I’m tired or feel stressed I go for a walk.”

Also visiting South Africa on summer exchange were Rasha Al Majali ’19 who attended Roedean School, Zaid Al Fayez ’18 and Laith Al Hadeed ’18, who both attended St. Stithians Boys’ College. It was Al Hadeed’s second exchange trip, having visited Australia last summer. The students visited many of South Africa’s most famous landmarks and attractions including Table Mountain National Park, Cape Town, the Nelson Mandela Museum, and Gold Reef City, to name a few.

Meanwhile, Rand Al Harahsheh ’18 spent the summer boarding at The Lawrence School in Sanawar, India where she made good friends and enjoyed getting to know the people, food, culture, nature and wildlife of the region.

Another student, Sama Issa ’18 – who visited India on exchange last summer – decided this year to visit Peru, a first for a King’s exchange student. She spent five weeks in Lima, where she attended Markham College, tried delicious Peruvian food, visited the World Heritage Site Machu Picchu, attended traditional horse races, went quad-biking and zip-lining and helped to build a house for a local family. Peruvian culture, according to Issa, was surprisingly similar to Arab culture.

“My host mom would push me to keep eating!” said Issa of one of those similarities. “I loved living with the family, it was such an amazing experience and so different. I was so scared to live with people I don’t know, but they were so nice and welcoming.”

Living with host families, no matter the country, was unanimously one of the exchanges’ favorite experiences. Not least for Laith Kassisieh ’18 and Walid Abu AlAfia ’19, who boarded at Scotch College in Perth, Australia for three weeks before staying with a host family for another three.

“My host dad was one of the most important parts of my trip,” said Abu AlAfia, about the Australian stay-at-home dad who gave them freedom to try new things, taught them to surf, took them for nighttime jogs on the beach, and sightseeing across the country. They encountered koalas and kangaroos at Perth Wildlife Reserve, visited famous Sydney landmarks including the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Bondi Beach, museums, Blue Mountains National Park, and Rottness Island, home to thousands of quokkas, the “world’s happiest animal.”

“The best thing about going on exchange was really understanding different cultures, seeing how different people interact and learn,” said Kassisieh, who felt just like any other Australian student while there. “The exchange taught me to be more extroverted; I learned to always be friendly and look for opportunities to travel and make new friends.”