Hello, fellow readers!
October 2022 holds a special place in our hearts, as it gifted us with life-changing memories…
Today, I invite you on this journey as I recall our recent student exchange program between our school in Cologne and our friends from Ghana. Over two incredible weeks, we had the amazing opportunity to visit Ghana, immerse ourselves in their culture by attending their school, go on exciting trips, and later, welcome our Ghanaian friends to our own country. Let’s relive this cross-cultural adventure, including the meaningful volunteer work we did at “Future Leaders School”.
For many years, the “Cologne International School” and the “SOS-Hermann Gmeiner International College” have been participating in a school exchange program, forging a close bond between the two schools. Older siblings who have participated in the program have returned with incredible memories, inspiring their younger siblings to follow in their footsteps.
The first week of our stay
In the beginning of our exchange, we got to experience school life at our partner institution. It was an exciting time as we delved into subjects that were completely new to us, not offered at our school in Germany. I decided to step out of my comfort zone and try Swahili classes, a language I had never thought of learning before. To my surprise, I quickly found myself enjoying the classes and embracing the welcoming atmosphere. It was a refreshing change that broadened my horizons and introduced me to the richness of different languages and cultures.
Getting used to the daily routine was a bit tough. We had to wake up around 5:30 am, have breakfast by 6:30 am, and walk to school by 6:50 am. Classes started at 7:30 am, which was much earlier than in Germany. However, the early mornings were worth it for the amazing experiences we had in Ghana. Besides our regular classes, the school offers a wide range of extracurricular activities. We had the opportunity to engage in sports like tennis, swimming in the school pool, and even playing volleyball and football with our new friends. These activities not only allowed us to have fun but also helped us bond and create lasting memories together.
Every year, their school hosts an exciting singing competition that brings together students with a passion for music and singing. To get ready for the event, they dedicate their evenings to choir practices. Something unique about their school is that they have different “houses” on campus. Each student is assigned to a specific group, and compete against other houses in various school events and festivals. During my time there, I was proud to be part of the enthusiastic “Trojans” house, adding an extra sense of friendly competition to the experience. Other houses were the “Titans, Vikings and Spartans”. This remains one of the most memorable events of our trip for me, as personally the atmosphere was tense but full of joy, excitement and camaraderie. We all wore matching outfits that represented the colors of our house. Since the songs were in a foreign language, I worked hard during the week of choir practice, so I wouldn’t hold back my group. To our delight, the Trojan house even ended up as the champions! The excitement was beyond words, and we celebrated our victory with a lively party in the dinner hall. There was music, laughter, and a big cake to mark the occasion. It was an incredible experience that we will always remember with immense joy. In my opinion, this experience perfectly represents the sense of community on the school campus. I felt incredibly welcomed in the “Trojans” House, despite being there for only a few weeks.
Here’s another fun story I want to share: the food! During our stay, we had the chance to taste various Ghanaian dishes like Fufu, Waakye, and the famous Jollof rice. The flavors were incredible, but I have to admit, some of the dishes were spicier than what I was used to. It led to some funny moments at the dining table, as my friends and I tried to handle the spiciness with mixed success. Despite the spiciness, I absolutely loved trying out new dishes and experiencing the rich flavors of Ghanaian cuisine.
During our time in Ghana, we had the opportunity to enjoy exciting trips that showcased the country’s beauty and history. We visited the Aburi Botanical Garden, known for its exotic plants and naturopathic knowledge.
The Kakum National Park, with its famous canopy walkway in the tropical rainforest. The Boti Falls, where we hiked to see the stunning Umbrella Rock and panoramic views.
And the Cape Coast Castle, a haunting reminder of Ghana’s role in the transatlantic slave trade. These trips were eye-opening experiences on Ghana’s natural wonders and rich heritage.
The second week of our stay
During the second week of our exchange, we had the incredible opportunity to visit the “Future Leaders School,” formerly known as the “UCC” (Underprivileged Children’s Centre). This school was founded 22 years ago by the late Billa Mahmud.
Billa Mahmud noticed that many children in his community were not attending school. Despite coming from a humble background, he had the chance to receive an education and recognized the importance of providing the same opportunity to others. After work each day, he would gather the children under a Mango tree and teach them basic English and Math. With the money he earned, he ensured that each child had exercise books, pencils, and erasers, so they had no excuses to skip his classes. What started with five children quickly grew, and Billa became a full-time teacher with a school filled with eager students.
After Billa’s death in 2016, the school was evicted in 2017. However, with the help of Akwaaba Volunteers, a new wooden structure and three toilets were built guaranteeing that the students could continue their education without interruption. By 2019, the first phase of the new school building was completed, doubling the school’s capacity. Today, the school has 300 students enrolled, positively transforming their lives.
Thanks to the generous donations from the CIS/IFK community, we were able to bring several suitcases filled with clothes, books, and learning materials as presents for the school. It was heartwarming to see the impact of our collective efforts. In fact, over the past six years, we have been supporting the Future Leaders in their journey to build a school. With the help of donors and volunteers from various countries, their dream became a reality. It’s inspiring to witness the positive change we can make when we come together.
In the mornings, we got to spend one-on-one time with specific students, helping them with simple tasks such as basic addition or identifying two-syllable words in English. I was paired with Emmanuella for the whole week, and let me tell you, she was so eager to learn and super excited. Every time she got a math question correct, she would give me and the rest of the group the biggest hug, and we couldn’t help but feel overjoyed with her. Seeing those smiles on the kids’ faces and feeling their gratitude was such a humbling experience that we’ll never, ever forget.
In the afternoons, we were divided into pairs and assigned to different classes ranging from Kindergarten 1 to Grade 4. Believe it or not, we even had the opportunity to teach our own classes! I remember having to prepare a French lesson for my class the next day. It was such a rewarding experience to see how enthusiastic the kids were about learning. Their excitement was contagious, and I couldn’t help but love every moment of it.
We are very grateful for the opportunity to volunteer at Future Leaders School. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of this meaningful initiative supporting underprivileged children. It was a rewarding experience that we will always cherish.
Our Ghanaian friends in Cologne
In March of this year, we had the pleasure of hosting the students from Ghana at our school. They stayed with us for a week, and we made sure to give them an unforgettable experience. During their visit, they had a busy schedule that included morning classes and exciting outings to popular attractions such as the Cologne Zoo, Chocolate Museum, and iconic landmarks like the Dom and Philharmonie. They also had the opportunity to explore museums, go shopping on Schildergasse, and even took a train to Bonn to visit the Deutsche Welle. On our last evening together, we shared a delicious traditional German meal at “Reissdorf am Keuchhof”. It was a wonderful way to conclude our time together and create lasting memories.
“My favorite thing about the Cologne-Ghana exchange was staying with my host family and being able to explore and immerse myself in a new culture, as well as meeting some of the people who came last semester and making new friends in Germany.” (Jada Wulff-Caesar – DP1 Student, SOS-HGIC)
In conclusion, I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment expressed in the quote. Staying in Ghana with a roommate and immersing oneself in a new culture is truly a remarkable experience. The connections we made with the students from Ghana are very valuable. This exchange provided us with an opportunity to step outside of our comfort zones, broaden our horizons, and create lasting memories. I am very grateful for the chance to be a part of this exchange and I encourage all students to consider participating in the following years. It’s an adventure that will leave you with an appreciation for different cultures, friendships, and unforgettable experiences.
Written by Clémence Julienne, student of Cologne International School
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