One activity that our visiting teachers always seem to love is the NILE Cultural Exchange. This is a NILE-wide discussion activity which really gets teachers talking to each other and sharing ideas from their context. Here, Johanna Stirling explains the why, what and how?


Many of our ‘closed’ groups consist of teachers all from a particular country or even the same city. This means we can tailor the course exactly to their needs. These teachers are often eager to meet other teachers from different countries. Of course they can mix on the social programme, but sometimes it’s difficult to strike up a conversation with someone without a particular aim. The Cultural Exchange provides the perfect platform for this.

“It doesn’t matter how different how our systems are, there are common elements for teachers we all share the same experience” 

What?Cultural Exchange

Today we had five classes of teachers who were all divided into 18 mixed nationality groups. Each group of about 4 teachers was assigned a classroom where they could sit and discuss some burning topics related to teaching in their own contexts. Topics and sub-topics suggested on the ‘worksheet’ were, for example,

  • Teaching in your country (e.g. terms and conditions for teachers, teachers’ problems, responsibilities, autonomy for teachers, training, class sizes, etc.)
  • English language teaching in your schools (e.g. age, popularity of English, resources, syllabus, bilingual education, etc.)
  • Parents (e.g. relationship with teachers, discipline, respect, communication, involvement)

“A relief to know that we all have the same feelings about our profession”


So how does it work?Cultural Exchange One NILE trainer acts as a co-ordinator and sets up a system so everyone knows where to go. Then trainers work with their own class for 15 mins, going through the worksheet. The teachers find their groups, introduce themselves and discussion begins. Trainers check all is working well but keep a low profile. Today we gave them one hour to discuss the issues but many groups were reluctant to stop! We operate on the ‘leave them wanting more’ policy and suggest they continue their conversations in their free time. Everyone goes back to their original classroom and the trainer asks for some feedback. What comes out of feedback?

“Interesting to discuss discipline – teaching seems to be as easy (or hard) no matter the national policy on this”

So…?Cultural Exchange

Firstly, most teachers talk about how interesting it was. Then, the trainer might ask them what was surprising. Sometimes they are fascinated by differences (class size, school hours, the level of respect for teachers in the community, etc.) but they are also frequently amazed by similarities. They may have thought problems they face were only found in their own country and are reassured that they are not alone. And my final question asks where they would most like to be a teacher – and the answer is almost always in their own country!

“Very fascinating to hear about the different relationships teachers have with parents!”

Can this only be done with teachers?     Johanna Stirling

It’s a great activity to do in any school that has mixed nationalities. Friendships are forged, opinions are discussed, cultures are shared and English is spoken!

(Note: I first experienced and learnt the concept of Cultural Exchanges from a colleague Malle Payne from INTO, Norwich)




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