Interview with Mr Hepting, World Classroom Programme Manager
Mr Hepting, you recently returned from YCIS – Secondary’s first ever trip to Argentina with our Year 9 students, why did you decide to add this country to the World Classroom Programme?
There are several reasons, really. The World Classroom is an expression of YCIS’s vision of preparing young people to participate effectively in the new global society, a world characterised by cross-cultural interaction, dynamic change and global interdependence. Latin America is a very significant part of this global society, and an area that our students had not yet explored. Argentina and Brazil share a very special eco-system between them…..the Iguassu Falls. More than anything else, it was the opportunity for our students to see this tropical rainforest with its abundant wildlife, birds, tropical plants, and of course, magnificent waterfalls, that helped me reach my decision.
How many students and teachers went on the trip?
Argentina was our most popular World Classroom destination this year. We had 98 students and 10 teachers from our schools in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing. They were divided into three separate groups with their own guides and itineraries. Everyone experienced the same things, but at different times to avoid crowds. Then, everyone met together at Iguassu Falls for our final rainforest experience and departure through Sao Paulo, Brazil the next day.
What activities did the students enjoy?
There were several interactive activities that the students really enjoyed. One of them was a special Argentine cooking lesson in which the students worked in a kitchen to make several kinds of empanadas (a Latin American fried bun containing meat, spices, and other ingredients), and crepes for dessert. They had great fun working together and preparing the meal under the guidance and direction of local chefs.
We also went to a famous tango club where instructors taught them how to do the basic steps. The tango lesson was especially meaningful as everyone had a cultural evening at one of Buenos Aires’ most famous dinner theatres, the Carlos Gardel, where they enjoyed a steak dinner while watching a professional dance troupe in full costume perform many different variations of the tango. They also saw many local people performing the tango on the city streets and in small squares. So they developed a real appreciation for this special cultural phenomena.
What would you say were the main highlights of the trip?
Without any hesitation, the highlight of the trip was the two-day visit to Iguassu Falls. This was an unforgettable experience for everyone. The 168 cataracts of the Falls are truly spectacular as they thunder through the rainforest. The exotic birds, the tropical flowers, and the local wildlife had all the students snapping photographs. Included in our visit to Iguassu was an optional helicopter trip over the Falls.
Another highlight was the day we took a boat trip up the Rio de la Plata delta to the small community of Tigre. It was fascinating to see how the local people lived at the water’s edge on hundreds of tiny islands.
Yet another highlight was the visit to the Colon Theater…..one of the finest opera houses in the world designed after the French and Italian style. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not also mention the visit to the museum dedicated to Eva Peron. The students were captivated with her story, and seeing the photographs and artefacts from that period.
What do you think are the main benefits of a trip like this to the students?
From the journals that the students have written, we know that they become more mature and self-reliant on World Classroom trips. Their English improves, and their self-confidence develops. They learn to make new friendships outside of their small circle of friends at home. Perhaps most importantly, they are able to see and do things that they would never be able to experience at home. We always say the World Classroom provides “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunities, and indeed, it is true. Students are able to travel and learn in the company of their friends and teachers. They meet and interact with students their own age in the country they visit. And they are able to develop their knowledge, perceptions, and understanding of the world around them.
What cultural differences did the children find especially surprising?
Perhaps a few points of noteworthy interest would include: the Argentine love of beef in all its forms from the gauchos on the ranch to the barbecue restaurants that serve some of the finest steaks in the world; the devotion the Argentinians have to their drink called “mate”…. an earthy grassy tea-like beverage that is always drunk from a decorated gourd; the Argentina passion for the tango with people performing it everywhere; and the Argentine love of their two national sports – polo and soccer.
Will you go to Argentina next year?
Yes, we have plans to offer the trip to Argentina again next year, perhaps with some variations … maybe an excursion to a gaucho ranch, or possibly to the south to see the towering ice glaciers. We shall see…. But definitely, we will return to Buenos Aires and to Iguassu Falls.