Gaining a Global Perspective in Ellis' Exchange Program

The learning that occurs while studying abroad can be difficult to replicate in a traditional school setting. A rock-climbing wall can’t compare to scaling the Harbour Bridge in Sydney, and learning about the British monarchy is brought to life in a completely new way when visiting the Tower of London in person. Adventures like these are truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunities—and ones that Ellis students who have participated in our International Exchange Program have been lucky enough to encounter. 
Led by Dr. Susan Corbesero, History Department Chair and Global Initiatives Coordinator, Ellis' program includes two exchanges: one in Queensland, Australia, at St. Hilda’s School for grade 10 students, and one in London, England, at Queen’s College for grade 11 students. As part of the program, Ellis students travel abroad for four weeks and two weeks, respectively, to learn a new country, culture, and academic environment.

“Studying abroad expands our students’ horizons in ways we can’t teach in a classroom. There is nothing else like it,” shared Dr. Corbesero. “They learn about events happening all over the world that impact their peers in real-time and build empathy as a result. If we want Ellis girls to be global citizens and changemakers, we have to give them opportunities to do that. The goal is for our students to go into the world and bring back what they learn to Ellis.”

Learning through an international lens is an important aspect of the Upper School curriculum, and the exchange program acts as one way for students to foster global competence. Because the program is reciprocal, even girls who don’t study in Australia or England benefit as Ellis students’ exchange counterparts join the Upper School community for a few weeks. They live with Ellis families, attend classes, participate in debates and discussions, and offer a fresh perspective on topics dominating the news. For instance, in December when Lily and Lexi from St. Hilda’s arrived from Australia, they shared what life was like in Queensland as the bushfires spread and affected their communities. These first-hand perspectives help Ellis students build empathy and raise awareness as they learn about themselves and the ever-changing world around them.

Annie Trimbur, Class of 2020, who participated in the Australian exchange in 2018, shared, “I learned a lot from my experience, about myself and about the world. The exchange taught me how similar and different people all across the globe can be and helped me gain independence. I was challenged and pushed outside of my comfort zone. I have too many great memories from Australia to count; I loved every second of it.”

For students who travel abroad with the program, a comprehensive project that encapsulates their time and experiences there is a requirement of the exchange. At Queen’s College, Ellis girls and their counterparts work collaboratively to compare and contrast one social, cultural, political, or economic dimension between London and in Pittsburgh. Together, students must investigate, research, and conduct fieldwork before delivering a final presentation at the conclusion of the exchange. In the past students have examined women’s inequality, immigration, and diversity in education. 

Sophomores participating in the Australian exchange have a different project: They are tasked with capturing and cataloging their travels in a blog. Over the course of their month-long stay, students must reflect on their experiences in the blog, explore the similarities and differences between Australia and America, and consider how they can promote cross-cultural awareness as student ambassadors. 

“In today’s interconnected world, a global education is more important than ever because students need to be able to not only understand global cities, but also be able to identify trends, commonalities, and challenges of these dynamic landscapes,” shared Dr. Corbsero. “Tomorrow’s leaders must be equipped to chart new modes of global engagement whether they position themselves as changemakers in business, public, non-profit, cultural, or educational sectors. The exchange is just one of many ways we do that at Ellis.”