Clifton’s International Programme opens doors, expands minds

22 May 2024

Recently, at a youth summit held at Dominion High School, in Sterling, Virginia, the USA, which brought together representatives from 17 countries, Clifton College‘s delegation was the youngest. Yet, the Clifton boys were named the winners of the Glocal Share Fair.

In case you were wondering, glocal is global and local combined. And the Share Fair was about sharing one’s culture and country.

Tyla Goosen, a Life Sciences Educator, who accompanied the boys to the USA, said the boys decided among themselves how to present South Africa’s culture. It included Chappies, Zam-Buk and Rooibos tea – so very South African. “A lot of people really enjoyed coming to our stall,” she smiled.

Clifton is a regular at international youth summits. The boys who visit them are often among the youngest participants because the school focuses its international programme on grade 10 learners.

“Academically, it’s a good year to send them,” Shaun McCabe, who headed up Clifton’s International Programme for many years before handing it over to Bianca French this year, said.

Argentina, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Colombia, Singapore, India, Transylvania (Romania) – they all form, or have formed, part of Clifton College’s International Programme.

A warm welcome awaited Clifton's delegation to the international youth summit in Virginia, the USA.
A warm welcome awaited Clifton’s delegation to the international youth summit in Sterling, Virginia, the USA.

At times, the exchanges are traditional, with one or two boys heading abroad and Clifton welcoming a similar number of learners from overseas. At other times, bigger groups attend international youth summits.

While some South African schools have even more extensive international programmes than Clifton, it’s the international youth summits which separate Clifton from other South African boys’ schools. Nearby Durban Girls’ College (DGC) also participates in the international youth summits, but that’s it for the Rainbow Nation.

International travel opportunities are not restricted to grade 10 boys, however. In July, three boys, all in grade 11, will head to Singapore for a summit. The summits include chaperones, which means they provide valuable opportunities for teachers to expand their education and horizons, too.

The youth summits can include presentations, speeches, cultural stands and cultural dances, even cooking. That requires meticulous preparations, and that’s where Bianca French, as the Head of the International Programme, comes in.

Trips are prepared so that the boys miss as little academic time as possible. That’s why, for example, the Singapore visit in July is possible for the grade 11 learners. They’ll miss, at most five days, but it will, more likely, be only three.

When Clifton boys participate in youth summits, time for travel is also included. “We try to make the most of these summits, so for two days before we’ll do sightseeing and exploring,” explained French.

“That requires research and booking. The individual exchanges are not as much work, because they are being hosted by a family, and most of the families will do their own bookings.”

Often the travel days include visits to places of historical interest. In Washington, DC, the boys visited the National Mall. In India, they visited the Taj Mahal, while in France, they travelled to the beaches of Normandy.

Clifton's participation in an international youth summit in Virginia included a visit to the iconic National Mall in Washington, DC.
Clifton’s participation in an international youth summit in Virginia included a visit to the iconic National Mall in Washington, DC.

There are, of course, many more requirements when travelling, including things like budgets (which can include payment plans), visas and inoculations, but that’s where the International Director smooths the process for the participants in the programme. These matters have to be dealt with well in advance of the events.

Lasting relationships are formed at the summits, Shaun McCabe said, relationships that extend way beyond the school years. In the global village, these can become very valuable. The summits open doors.

Looking back on the Clifton delegation’s experience in the USA, Goosen said: It changed the boys’ lives. I was with the French teacher, and I was sitting at the airport, and there was 20 minutes’ difference in the times of our departure flights, so we met at the airport at the same time and the French girls were crying and my boys were standing there holding back tears.

“The French teacher and I were sobbing our eyes out because Europeans wear their emotions on their sleeves.

“It literally changed the boys’ lives. We have a boy now who wants to go on the French summit because he had made such deep and meaningful connections with those girls.”

The summits offer different perspectives and focusses, Shaun McCabe explained: “The American summits are largely about global perspectives. The Singapore summit usually has an economic focus. The French summit is usually environmental. The Indian summit is usually community involvement and community development.”

Clifton is always a popular participant and part of the reason for that is the impeccable manners of the boys. It’s a point of emphasis at the school, but it also sets the boys apart from many of their fellow summit attendees, who come from schools where manners are not accorded such importance. That makes them not quite teachers’ pets, but certainly very popular with teachers from other countries.

That, then, begs the question what learners from other schools should expect if they were to visit Clifton. Individual exchanges usually last for about a month.

French explained: “What we say to other schools is they have to embrace the Clifton way. That means you have to be involved in sport. You have to come to lessons.

“We give them a loan uniform from the shop, so that they wear a Clifton uniform. They attend all the functions. It’s about fully embracing the opportunity.”

And isn’t that what life is about? Creating opportunities and making the most of them.

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