Students develop cross-cultural relationships through virtual exchange


Kelly Haggerty '23

The Sacred Heart Network Exchange Program differs from previous years due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sacred Heart Greenwich sophomores continue to keep the Network Exchange Program alive, despite travel restrictions.  Members of the virtual exchange program engage with their exchange students through different internet platforms in hopes of eventually meeting them in person.

The Network Exchange Program gives students the opportunity to explore new cultures and connect with members of the communities outside of Greenwich, according to shgreenwich.orgIn previous years, members of the program spent two to six weeks at an international school within the Sacred Heart Network.  During typical visits, students interact with new people and expand their global awareness.

This year, the adapted exchange has three main goals.  The program aims to build a cross-cultural friendship with a Sacred Heart student in another country, develop language skills and cultural awareness, and celebrate the connections that come with the Sacred Heart Network.

Last year, exchange students from Seville, Spain and Dublin, Ireland visited Sacred Heart Greenwich.  Courtesy of Mrs. Montserrat Garcia

Participants interact using online platforms, such as Skype, Google Meet, Instagram, and Zoom.  During the virtual exchange program, the students speak to each other in the foreign language they are learning.  Students can share different aspects of their culture with each other by discussing a typical day in their life, specifically at school.  Eventually, each student and her exchange partner will create a presentation about their experience, which they are to present in the target language.

Although students have not been able to have the typical exchange experience, they have still managed to expand their knowledge of other cultures.  Sophomore Annie Cornell reflected on her participation in this year’s program and how she was still able to build a lasting friendship with her exchange student.

“One of the best things about Sacred Heart is its network exchange program as it allows you to broaden your horizons by traveling around the world to another Sacred Heart school,” Annie said.  “This year, I was given the opportunity to exchange with Seville, Spain.  I met my exchange student, Leonor, and had an immediate bond and connection with her.  Even though we cannot exchange and visit one another in person due to the pandemic, through this incredible Sacred Heart program, we have still been able to become great friends and develop a lifelong friendship.”

Amelia Heissan ’22 connects with her exchange student through a video chat.  Courtesy of Mrs. Montserrat Garcia

Despite the new format, the exchange program maintains the connection between Sacred Heart Network schools and facilitates bonding as students bring what they learned at a network school back to their respective communities.  Annie’s exchange student, Leonor Pérez de Ayala Gerbolés, who currently attends Colegio Santa María del Valle in Mairena del Aljarafe, Spain, explained how this program has impacted her educational experience.

“Having the opportunity to go to another place, or talk with someone about their culture, makes you not just more intelligent, but it helps you understand how people are in those places, and why they have the traditions and education that they do,” Leonor said.  “From my point of view, an exchange is an opportunity to gain knowledge and make friends.  I am in progress of gaining more knowledge, and have already made a friend.”

Mrs. Montserrat Garcia, Upper School World Language Teacher and Network Exchange Coordinator, believes that the students were still able to make the best out of their exchange experience, in spite of the lack of in-person contact.

“I am impressed with the level of commitment that the girls display to stay engaged and to maintain the relationship with the exchange student even though the students were not given the same opportunity as last year,” Mrs. Garcia said.  “My goal is that the connection created between both students is maintained in the future, and most importantly, that they have the opportunity to meet each other in person soon.”

Featured Image by Kelly Haggerty ’23