Tue, Jun 2nd, 2015
As part of an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership project, schools can now send their pupils to study abroad in partner schools for periods of two to twelve months. St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Rush, Co. Dublin, is the first Irish school to do this, as part of the “Strip to Identity” project. The project sees schools in Belgium, Norway, Turkey, Slovenia, Italy, Germany, Spain and Ireland exploring issues of identity, language, and cultural background by developing a comic book together. The comic will be based on folk stories from each country and will be used to support cross-cultural awareness, language and literacy development, and love of reading.
Transition Year students Ellie Fagan and Ross Deane are among the group working on the comic book, and as part of the project spent nine weeks studying in a partner school in Leuven in the Dutch speaking area of Belgium. They sent us this update on their first weeks away from home.
“My day starts at 6 a.m., which gives me an hour to get ready before taking the bus. School starts at 8.35 a.m and finishes at 3.40 p.m., or earlier on Wednesdays. Each lesson lasts 50 minutes. Even though it’s only ten minutes longer than I’m used to, you can still feel the difference! Anyone over 15 is allowed out for lunch break. It’s very strange walking through the school and hearing everyone talking in Dutch, but luckily many of the students and teachers speak good English. Each form class has their own classroom so instead of the students moving around the teacher comes to them. The school has no uniform and there is a much more relaxed feeling around the place. At the moment, if I had the choice whether to go to school in Ireland or Belgium, I would pick Belgium because it feels like the students have more freedom here.
I settled in with my new host family quite quickly and they have made me feel very welcome. During the Easter holidays, I had the chance to explore Brussels with my host sister, Sophie. We spent a lot of time shopping so let’s hope I can fit it all in my case for coming home! We also went to Holland a few times to see Sophie’s grandparents, and to visit Leiden University and The Hague. Holland is one of my favourite places as I feel like the lifestyle is different and better compared to back home in Ireland. When I arrived in Belgium, I had 62 days here which I thought would drag but surprisingly, the days are just flying by! I have 34 days to go so I’m nearly halfway there already!”
“I must say, the first thought I had when arriving in Belgium was how much it reminded me of Ireland. The weather wasn’t the best, and there were fields absolutely everywhere. Although instead of potatoes, they grow pears and oranges. I have to admit, I was quite nervous in the airport before leaving and on the plane. However, when I met the woman I’m staying with, who is from Belfast by the way, that calmed my nerves. It’s good to know that I’m not the only Irish person living in the house!
My host family live about a ten minute train ride from Leuven. Their small town is lovely. Every Wednesday there’s a market in the main square where you can get fresh vegetables, meat and clothes. Leuven is also beautiful and as it is a “student city” the place is quite busy. During the Easter holidays everybody was going shopping and hanging out in the good weather.
I’ve started Dutch classes since I came here. In my opinion, it is a very harsh language and quite difficult to speak! However, at home, all conversation is in Flemmish and I’ve learned that the two are quite different. I am starting to understand some conversations between the family but most of the time I don’t know what is being said. However I am enjoying the Dutch classes. It makes it easier to learn when there are only two people in the class!
One big difference I’ve noticed is how languages are taught. When they first start learning French or German here, the teacher will speak only that language and so the students actually learn how to speak first rather than writing out vocabulary and grammar. Then, because they start speaking different languages at such an early age, writing becomes second nature to them. Some people here can speak fluent Dutch, German, French, Flemish and English. Whereas in Ireland, we can only speak English and bits of French, German, Spanish etc. We should be fluent in Irish after learning it for all these years, but very few people my age actually are. Another difference is that students here choose the line of work they want go into when they enter secondary school. For example, Sórcha from my host family does classes based around economics and languages. But other classes include International Project Management and Tourism Studies.
I am really enjoying it here, everybody has been so welcoming and helpful. The fact that everybody can speak English makes it easier to get involved. The teachers are all really nice as well. I find it hard to follow the classes in Dutch, but some of the teachers will translate their lessons into English so Ellie and I can get involved. English and French are fine, though the French they do is much more difficult than in Ireland, as I expected. The only problem I am having so far is getting up for school. I have to get up at seven every morning and be in school for half eight. I’ve been enjoying it so much so far, I can’t believe I only have a few weeks left. Time is flying by!”
Thanks to Ellie and Ross for their contributions!
Leuven map image from Wikimedia used under creative commons license; other images in public domain. Léargas welcomes suggestions for ‘Insights’ at firstname.lastname@example.org.