Runyararo Muzavazi Features Reporter
There are different ways for one to learn. Some prefer reading a book, others are more suited to practical experience or leaning by doing and there are those who like to learn through observation. Exchange programmes are one such way for students to experience different types of learning. An international education exchange programme is an initiative whereby students move across borders for educational, professional, or cultural purposes.
Through this exchange they are able to interact and connect with a wider group of people sharing cultural experiences and learning about people as well as their chosen studies.
Martha Musonza-Holman who is originally from Domboshava has been working through her organisation, Love Zimbabwe, to make the country a prime destination for exchange students, not only for them to enhance their learning experience but also for the benefit of the communities in which the students move to.
“Love Zimbabwe which operates in Domboshava is about promoting brand Zimbabwe and facilitates exchange programmes to Zimbabwe for foreign students studying anthropology, African cultures among other majors related to Africa,” she said.
“Many universities have partnered with me because they find my work very helpful to students as I take them from the comfort of their homes and bring them to a rural area to live like Africans and get a better view of their area of study.”
According to Mrs Musonza-Holman universities should embrace such exchange programmes as they help develop and broaden education as sector and students’ learning skills.
“The exchange program has many benefits as it allows one to conduct their research on the ground for an in-depth thesis to be produced afterwards.
“One of the students that I came with from the beginning of the project, Lucinda Walker got a first class degree as she excelled in her study on the importance of light in rural communities,” she said.
She added that these programmes do not only give knowledge but wisdom to the participating students.
“Exchange programs create opportunities for participants to learn, to prosper, and to work with others to solve shared problems and ensure a secure future.
“Exchanges create future leaders who instinctively appreciate the value of international collaboration and understanding,” she said.
Unfortunately for the continent there is a massive information gap which has created a vague image of Africa to those overseas and resulted in numerous stereotypes.
Mrs Musonza-Holman believes that through such exchanges, those outside of Africa can learn more about the continent and be part of its transformation.
“When I first came to Zimbabwe with the students they were scared that they might be going to live in a jungle but to their surprise they found the country very lovely, peaceful and stable politically.
“Some of the students now refuse to go back because of how they connected with the village folk they lived with.
“Some might argue that Africa faces economic uncertainty, ongoing threats to national security, and a tarnished image overseas.
“Meeting these challenges however, requires smart power strategies that rebuild strong international partnerships.
“Enabling students, teachers, scholars, and citizen participants to experience African communities first hand and also allowing Africans to experience foreign communities is a way of boosting critical support for diplomacy and an essential part of building international relationships for the future,” she added.
Lucinda Walker a former exchange student from the University of Wales, and trustee of Love Zimbabwe said the moment she came to Zimbabwe she fell in love with it as a field of study which made it easy for her to attain her first class degree.
“When I first visited Zimbabwe I was not sure if I was safe but when I started to engage with the people I knew there were no people as welcoming as the people of Zimbabwe.
“As foreign exchange participants we exposed to the values, customs, and ways of doing business in Zimbabwe through families and volunteers from all walks of life.
“In turn, the communities which we are living in get to appreciate foreign cultures and values. All people involved in exchange programs, both participants and hosts, are part of creating vast cultural diversification,” she said.
Ms Walker expressed gratitude for the opportunity to be a participant in the student exchange program.
“As an anthropologist, in my final year in 2016 I needed a good research topic for my dissertation and because I was on the ground I had the opportunity to conduct interviews and even experience, through participant observation, how lack of light affects the activities of an African which made my study exhaustive such that I got a first class,” she said.
Ms Walker urged more students to take part in exchange programmes especially those in universities as they help open their mental horizons.
“According to my discovery, exchange program participants complete their programs with a better impression of their host country and its people as well as excel in their studies.
“I rank exchange programs among the most useful methods for long-term political change, reciprocal understanding and development in the education sector,” she said.
Brydie Parkes another student from the University of Wales felt exchange programmes brought about resources for development both for the education sector as well as the community under study.
“Students on exchange programmes spend substantial personal funds when they go to a certain country which results in the country earning foreign currency.
“In addition, the exchange appropriation leverages important contributions, including books and even financial support for the disadvantaged. Currently, here in Domboshava, a library is being built for children who are not in school.
Ms Parkes added that the program helped her to address critical topics which she used to overlook.
“These exchanges have encouraged leadership aspirations among us as participants; we were challenged to waking up before the cock crows, cooking sadza on open fire and fetching firewood.
“By raising issues such as culture, trade, and climate change, I think this program helps mould generations of leaders with acquaintances and knowledge around the globe, leaders who understand the significance and importance of widespread engagement, understanding and instinctively incorporate the international into their everyday life and work,” she said.
James Barker an anthropologist from Wales expressed how students receive overwhelming credits for their overseas studies.
“Exchange programmes have created a guide to help students work with their local school and facilitators outside the country to receive the credit they need.
“Aside from simply earning credits in basic subjects, students also become acceptant of alternative ways to learn. I personally have learnt to analyse things around me in a constructive manner and how to solve problems,” he said.
According to Mr Barker, students who utilise their visits to Africa are always excelling in education.
“Students who take part in exchange programmes learn new languages in a practical manner and experience the way learning institutions in other countries work; we may even have access to certain courses that are not available in the United Kingdom.”
Hannah Thompson concurred saying while exchange programmes played a very crucial role in education, students also benefit at a personal level.
“Having an opportunity to discover myself in a place that is unfamiliar to the usual day to day life has helped me develop some self-awareness and self-esteem in a manner that cannot be duplicated. I have learnt to confront social challenges outside of my comfort zone and deal with problems head-on” she said.
Ms Thompson hailed the initiative as it upheld and encouraged intertwining of cultures.
“We are learning how to live in African families’ households and this has increased the value we place on homes and family life.
“Although our exchange program is three weeks, we have adopted and learnt skills that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.
“Once we finish our education and are actively seeking employment, there is no doubt that employers will look favourably upon students who have travelled either cross-country or around the world,” she said.
Chief Chinamhora from Domboshava was appreciative of the exchange programmes.
He said the development that takes place in communities after exchange programmes is remarkable.
“This project has brought development as we see now women are practicing sewing, crafting and even pottery which they are earning a living from.
“We have tourist attractions like the Ngoma Kurira mountain and Domboshava caves which these students love to visit which help promote brand Zimbabwe as the students carry the good news home.
“Currently there is work in progress as they are building a library for the children who cannot afford to be in school,” he said.
Chairperson of the Department of Technical Education at the University of Zimbabwe, Dr Peter Kwaira said exchange programmes bring back cultural pride.
“Value for our culture will be upheld as the foreigners engage with our culture, learning about how people live in Zimbabwe which will help in clearing the air on the brainwashing stories about Africa and Zimbabwe in particular,” he said.
Dr Kwaira added the most important thing about the initiative is its impact on education.
“Education will take an overwhelming turn if these programmes are implemented worldwide. We are talking about a global educational student exchange program which enriches the education system as students have an opportunity to participant observe their area of study, engage with it and analyse it.
“This initiative will also help our children and even those who come from other countries to know how to behave in other countries.”
Exchange programmes have a life-changing impact on every student who undergo them. Students have the opportunity to learn a new language, make lifelong friendships, and gain appreciation of host country and culture.