By Soma Basu, The Hindu 
By the time the group of 60 students from the University of Iowa left the Temple Town last week, it was amply clear to them that the field of elementary studies does not limit itself to field trips in one’s own country. “It is also about encountering people and their communities far beyond borders.”
Ten students who spent three weeks in the different campuses of the Mahatma group of schools took back with them loads of information about India, and particularly small town Madurai. But what touched their hearts the most was an appreciation for them from all and also some continued questions about each other. That was true knowledge gained.
The Iowa team was on a reciprocal visit to the school as part of its “Winterim  programme in India ” to do “observational learning”. Last year, a delegation of teachers from Mahatma Schools had visited the Iowa University to study their curriculum. Pointed out Senior Principal Premalatha Panneerselvam: “The kind of interest and curiosity the cross cultural exchange programmes generated indicates the potential for greater use of these types of experiences in future.”
The exchange, how students interacted with their Indian counterparts and what the Indian students did to showcase our culture, enabled both sides to socialize and communicate better. “We are looking at more opportunities for our students engaging in developmentally appropriate experiences across the curriculum with multiple people and groups because students successfully and with much enjoyment learn about the traditions, culture and lifestyle of an entirely different group of people,” she said.
The adroit interactions among students from kindergarten to High School also exhibited a degree of commitment to the process of learning. Effective communication — whether through class room teaching, skits and plays, games and lab experiments, various cultural programmes and fun contests – all collectively made the experience rich.
The delegation members were self-contained and gifted and quite enthusiastically indulged in classroom hopping and were totally taken by the inquisitiveness and learning ability of the Indian students. Many of them knew quite a bit about India and loved the country for its culture, multi-linguistic society, multi-culturalism and spiritual studies.
Whether it was Amy, Briana or Lauren, they all reiterated that such exchange programmes offered exciting options to learn from experiences, explore all together different places and make use of the quality education available in different parts of the world. Most importantly, it teaches the value of shared living, learning and experiencing, echoed Jessica, Kevin and Cally. Students who come on such programmes take an entirely different approach to cultural adjustment than many of their peers, said their leader, Dr.Mitchel Kelly, clinical psychologist and Olympic wrestler.
From attending the morning assembly to sitting in classrooms and staffrooms and answering patiently the innumerable questions fired at them, the Iowa team also witnessed much of Indian arts and culture. Art from waste, in particular evoked much interest as the visitors willing tried their hand at the craft work. They enjoyed the story telling sessions by toddlers to senior students and teachers and were amazed by the oratorical prowess of all.
The Board games particularly during Mathematics class and several hands-on activities, creative writing and humour sessions, brainstorming tangram exercises, debates and recitation of tongue twisters, snippets from Indian history, mimes on Boston tea party, junk food and environment protection, nature walks and farm visits, yoga and meditation, puppet shows and making of ads — all were smartly packaged that not only entertained the guests but also gave them a meaningful insight about the country and the State,
From traditional welcome to pongal celebrations made up the cultural feast and for the spirit of camaraderie friendly basketball matches were played between the host and the visiting teams. The coordinator of the reciprocal visit programme, Mr.Rajagopal, conducted exclusive interactive workshops with teachers to enable them to understand and explore how individual, family, community, environment and institutions govern problem solving, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. Quotations and anecdotes, success stories and personal experiences enriched this series of workshops.
Before leaving the visiting team gave a moving presentation sharing how much they enjoyed and that there experience was well beyond expectation. When comparing their own schools back home and the ones they visited here, they in particular appreciated the respect shown by the students to their teachers and the behaviour of teachers in return.
“A teacher’s personal behaviour plays a vital role in a student’s life. A student can be intrinsically motivated when the teacher plays the multiple-roles of a tutor, mother and friend. We saw it demonstrated here,” they wrote.