A year of school in America

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Charan Naidoo provides insight into his experiences with the ASSIST program

As a young adult born into a South-African Indian family that prioritises education, and a fortunate student at a Melbournian private school, I have never underestimated the importance of education. When I was informed that I had the opportunity to attend one of America’s finest private schools on a scholarship from an organisation called ASSIST, I didn’t hesitate.

ASSIST.Indian Link

ASSIST (American Secondary Schools for International Students and Teachers) was founded in 1969.  Its goal is to respond to a changing international landscape by supporting some of the world’s most outstanding students to attend select American independent schools for one year.  Chosen based on academic achievement, co-curricular merit and cultural adaptability, ASSIST students from around the world take advantage of cultural and educational opportunities in their American schools and return home the following year to become ambassadors for ASSIST in their respective nations. To date, 4,820 students from over 51 countries have become ASSIST scholars.

ASSIST.Indian Link
Charan with Ex-US Ambassador to Senegal, Mr. Lewis Lukens

With the generous support of my parents and friends, I embarked on my most exciting adventure to date – a year in the ‘Land of Opportunity’. Throughout my time in the US, I learnt an incredible amount about American culture. I undertook the process of self-development that has left me as the more mature, educated and adaptable individual I am today. I was shown an astonishing amount of kindness from my American friends and host family, who embraced me into their communities and way of life with open arms. My time living without my family in a new country opened up my eyes to the world around me, allowing me to better appreciate the global community and to look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead of me.

ASSIST.Indian Link

In terms of school itself, I was greatly affected by the ‘culture of learning’ that Catlin Gabel School promoted. In Victoria, learning is directed toward the completion of tests and exams to a very high standard in order to achieve a high ATAR score. The American system allows colleges to examine ‘the whole student’ (academics, co-curriculars, sports etc) without the sole focus on test performance. The Catlin Gabel School took advantage of this opportunity to create an environment where students enjoyed learning and teachers enjoyed teaching, due to their ability to structure courses based on student interests. Testing varied from class to class. My French teacher assigned just two low importance tests throughout the year whilst my History teacher provided us with a number of writing assignments. However, with a system that promoted learning as the goal, I could see and feel the engagement of students in their classes in discussion and the interpretation of subject knowledge.

ASSIST.Indian Link
Charan speaking at the Model UN Conference in Eugene, Oregon

The idea of learning as the goal of education is an important one for students to remember, especially with upcoming VCE exams. Students often forget their desire to learn for enjoyment under a mountain of assessments. Whilst it would be unrealistic to seek foundational change in the VCE system anytime soon, what students can do is remember why they chose the subjects they did and think of learning as a journey rather than assessment as the final destination.