Knowing me, knowing you

Is stereotyping a benefit or a hindrance in understanding people from different cultures and social settings? Two schools from very different backgrounds tackled this question and fought against common generalisations – by finding out how the respective other really thinks.

Who: Dixons City Academy, Bradford and Erasmus-von Rotterdam Gymnasium, Viersen

Participants: 50 British and German pupils travelling

What happens when German and British students from very different social, ethnic and religious backgrounds meet? Two schools from Bradford and Viersen were eager to find out! The students jointly approached the theme of cultural diversity in an exchange experiment. During mutual visits, workshops and teamwork, the students explored intercultural topics, following the idea that reflecting on one’s own culture helps understanding and appreciating others.

Tackling prejudices, fighting stereotypes

‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ allowed the students from very different social and economic areas to investigate each other’s similarities and differences in the day to day life as a teenager in a European country. The project’s aim was to make students more aware of what life is like in a variety of cultural settings in both countries and to accept each other for who we are. The key focus was to help students to take part in future cross-cultural exchanges by getting a better understanding of how and their families from the other country think.

Cultural diversity in action

In order to communicate first impressions and to eliminate cultural misunderstandings, the group created a ‘manual’ for each visiting country that would provide future participants with a guide in preparation for the visit. During the visits, each project day was given a thematic focus which allowed students to reflect on the similarities and differences of their homes, schools, cities, local histories and teenage lives in general. Trips, guided tours and quizzes aimed at supporting interaction. At the end of each day, students came together to share their observations with each other and documented their thoughts in their diaries, enhancing communication, reflection and intercultural skills.

Avoiding generalisations in the future

Not only did the project allow us as individuals and community to think more closely about who we are. It made us look at the people around us with a more open mind and heart. (UK teacher).

The high presence of the project within school has resulted in more students wanting to get involved in projects in the future. The manuals will provide future participants and their families with useful information to ease the settling in process and understanding of each others’ similarities and differences and will be updated by students during future visits to ensure topicality.The most important outcome has been that through ‘Knowing you’, your country, family and culture, students have gained a better awareness of what it is like to ‘Know me’. They developed pride in themselves and tolerance towards new people, countries, cultures, ethnicities and religions.

I thought there would be many more differences than I found there were – as when I went I noticed that there were actually a lot of similarities between the countries. (UK participant)

Future plans

Following this success, Dixons City Academy and Erasmus-von Rotterdam Gymnasium are now planning a further project on food and healthy eating, involving a visit to a food production facility both in Germany and the UK. Pupils will spend time preparing food and then serve the wider community, making both the students and community aware of culinary similarities and differences. The project outcome will be a bilingual recipe booklet which will be available both in Viersen and Bradford. Dixons Academy will also be taking part in the ‘Host a teacher’ programme in order to strengthen the relationship between the partner schools even further and enable them to plan the next project more closely.