by Mame Kane, V Form
Last summer, I participated in a new exchange program between St. Mark’s and St. Hilda’s School in Queensland, Australia. Dr. Warren, the head of the Global Citizenship Initiative, introduced me to the program. Dr. Warren taught my Third Form Seminar class in 2011-12, and she ignited my intrigue about the different parts of the world that we studied in that course. I expressed my interest to her about becoming more globally aware and competent, and she emailed me last September. I was asked if I wanted to start a new exchange program that the school was introducing. Dr. Warren gave me two options. I could either go to the Waterford School in Swaziland or St. Hilda’s School in Australia. I had always wanted to travel to Australia so I agreed to be a part of the exchange program. She informed me that I would be the first of any St. Markers to travel to St. Hilda’s since the 1980s. Even though it was daunting knowing that I would be traveling 22 hours across the world by myself, I was thrilled to have this opportunity to immerse into a different academic setting, culture, and country.
St. Hilda’s is an all-girls’ school, different from the co-educational systems of which I have always been a part. Before St. Mark’s, I had attended a public school with a population of about 1,000 students, and class sizes varied from 25 students to 30, so I was accustomed to large classes. I have always known that educational systems vary depending on the environment or country. But before last summer, I had never critically thought about how different schools are in other countries. Over the past three years that I have attended St. Mark’s, I have grown comfortable in the academic environment provided where class sizes rarely exceed thirteen students. The community here at St. Mark’s is often described as a “close knit” community because of the relatively small enrollment of about 340 students. At St. Hilda’s, however, the 1000 students were all female. In the St. Hilda’s classrooms, girls seemed very comfortable in their environment. Everyone was required to participate and had no trouble doing so. Although sometimes voices were lost in the large classroom sizes, girls were not restrained from sharing their opinions and thoughts. Single sex schools can often provide a beneficial environment to improve the education for certain students and allow students the opportunity to vocalize their opinions in setting where judgment is limited. I was fortunate enough to experience five weeks in this type of educational environment.
I had expected school at St. Hilda’s to mimic the traditional systems here in the United States, yet it differed greatly. Instead of taking five or six main courses, students took electives, which included Careers, Business, Gym, Dance—all during the school day. These are optional activities that most prep schools, St. Mark’s included, regard as clubs or afternoon activities. School started at 8:20 and ended at 3:30, and most girls did not have free periods in their schedules. For me, the school days seemed long because I was used to having less than five classes a day with club blocks, co-curricular meeting times, and free periods incorporated into our 8:00-3:00 schedule.
When I first arrived at St. Hilda’s, I was surprised at how many other exchange students were there. I met several girls from Canada, Chile, England, Japan, Scotland, and New Zealand, thus furthering my global experiences. I was able to befriend people from several countries that I would have never had the chance to meet. All the exchange students were allowed to pair up and choose classes together. I paired up with Charli, a girl from England, and we were placed in “Year 11” classes; we chose Drama, English, Math, and Religion. We were allowed to have two frees because we were exchange students. We stayed in these classes for half of our time at St. Hilda’s.
When many of the other exchange students departed, I was allowed to shadow my host Georgia (who published her experiences at St. Mark’s in the last issue of LEO) in all of her classes: Business, Math, P.E, English, History, French, Sports Science, and Religion. Although it was stressful to go from taking five classes at St. Mark’s to eight at St. Hilda’s, I also had a lot of fun because the classes were so different. P.E and Sports Science were very interesting to me. The last time I had taken a P.E class had been in middle school, and I did not enjoy it. However this P.E class focused on dance. I witnessed the girls in the class create a class dance, and I even participated in a modern art dance class. Sports Science altered the pace of the day because the girls would change from their regular uniform to their sports uniform, which consisted of a St. Hilda’s t-shirt and spandex, and play tennis in the middle of the day. Unlike at St. Mark’s, some people took Sports Science and then also played a team sport in the afternoon.
While on the Gold Coast, I was able to experience many aspects of Australian culture. I tasted new foods such as vegemite and chicken sushi. I was able to go to a boys’ rugby game and even woke up at 5 am one morning to attend to a regatta. I enjoyed living in a house on the river. I toured a wildlife park and was able to see koalas and kangaroos up close in their natural habitat.
While being at St. Hilda’s was an amazing opportunity, I began to value the education that I am receiving at St. Mark’s. Although our school is very structured, students are indeed allowed to “Age Quod Agis,” do what they do best. To me, St. Hilda’s was restricting. I was having a great time learning about Australian culture but I could not help but be slightly annoyed about the school’s rules. A uniform (which I didn’t really mind) was enforced, a school hat had to be worn while entering the school but taken off after, earrings and makeup were not allowed, girls were not allowed to dye their hair, and one’s hair had to always be tied up in a ponytail or bun. Although I did not have to abide by these rules, I voluntarily chose to so that I could experience the life of an Australian schoolgirl.
I learned a lot about myself from spending six weeks in Australia at St. Hilda’s. I was one of just two African-American girls at the school (and we were both exchange students) even though it was a very diverse place, which represented many cultures and countries. At first, I felt completely out of place but as the weeks progressed, I realized that all I had to do was step outside of my comfort zone, be friendly, and stay open-minded. Many people were fascinated by my “accent” and asked many questions about where I was from. When I said that I was from New York, many of the St. Hilda’s girls were amazed. They asked me many questions about what I did in New York and at a United States’ boarding school. People seemed to be intrigued about me because I spoke differently and came from such an intriguing place.
I realize that many people are nervous about stepping outside of their comfort zone, but taking a part of an exchange program is a rare and fruitful opportunity that every high school student should experience.
Mame Kane is a V form student form Manhattan, currently residing in Thieriot. Her favorite classes are AP Art History and English. In her free time, she enjoys eating, watching Netflix, and reading. She enjoys traveling to different parts of the world and hopes to visit new places in the future.