by Chew Sher Mein (15S03H) and Martin Lim (15A13A) Additional reporting by Yeo Jia Qi (15S03H)
Raffles Press had the opportunity to interview 4 visitors from the Czech Republic who participated in an exchange programme in the first half of the year. They have since returned, and we present here a snapshot of their recollections of their experiences in RI and Singapore, and their thoughts on the differences between our education systems and societies.
The Raffles Experience
The students, aged 17–18, are from the Johannes Kepler Gymnasium in Prague, Czech Republic, one of RI’s partner G20 schools. It was part of an exchange program, since nine students from RI Year 4 flew over to Czech Republic during last year’s Gap Semester. They were selected after an essay writing round and an interview, as well as based on their grades.
Just like normal Rafflesian students, they attend lectures, tutorials and lab sessions with their buddies, sometimes including the Monday enrichment programs. While they receive all the lecture notes and tutorials, their work is not marked. 3 of them being from science classes, they found themselves most accustomed to the science subjects’ syllabuses. Another issue was the uniform, which for some of them, took some effort getting used to since they do not normally wear uniforms in their school.
After school, they also join CCA programs of their interest. Adèla trained with the Floorball girls team, having played floorball for ten years and being in a floorball team back home. She found the girls impressive, considering that most of them are new to the sport, having just joined a few months ago, and found the training really fun and enjoyable. Svatava trained with the fencing team and was similarly impressed by the level of skill.
The students attended several arts events, including Raffles Runway’s RProject 2014, the Chinese orchestral performance Recollections, the Raffles Chorale and Raffles Voices joint concert Limelight at the Esplanade (23rd April) and the Raffles Jazz concert Take My Word For It held here in the PAC. They appreciated all the effort that went into the elaborate and intricately designed props and costumes for RProject, and found the atmosphere fresh and exciting. Recollections was their first experience listening to music made from Chinese instruments and they particularly praised the stunning rendition of the soundtrack from the Phantom of the Opera with traditional Chinese instruments, as it was their first time seeing the unique fusion of Chinese culture with the intricate melodies of the well-known musical.
Unlike Rafflesians, they don’t have as many opportunities to enjoy the arts in their school, since Czech schools do not have compulsory CCAs attached to their school. Enjoying performances by their peers and classmates is significantly less convenient and accessible for them. Many students voluntarily take up sports and pursue their interests outside of school.
According to the Czech students, Rafflesians seem to not have much of a life outside of school and CCA.They spend their whole weekends studying for tests and completing homework. As such, the Czech people don’t feel like they have many things to talk about with Rafflesians.
Back home, teenagers have more fun and hang out more with their friends. Unlike in Singapore where outings are mostly limited to the shopping malls and mostly consist of eating, shopping and movie-watching, teenagers in the Czech Republic source out more open areas such as the park and city just to relax, and in our terms, lepak.
Moreover, they commented on a certain divide between the boys and the girls in school, as if they were separated by an invisible wall. In the Czech Republic, the girls and guys mix around a lot more and are a lot more comfortable with hanging out together. This is probably attributed to the fact that most schools in the Czech republic were co-ed while a good proportion of students from Raffles were from the single-sex RI (Y1-4) and RGS. So boys and girls in the Czech Republic spend significantly more time interacting with peers of the opposite gender.
They were not used to the amount of homework Rafflesians were assigned, feeling that our system forces us to spend a lot of time in school and doing homework, so Rafflesians barely have any time to do anything else. In the Czech Republic, the focus is on guided learning in school and the amount of homework assigned is minimal. They do not have lectures, only tutorials, so the lessons are classroom-based and slower-paced in general, and most students make their own notes because notes are not provided. To them, the Czech education system seemed less exams and results oriented as ours, with a greater emphasis placed on holistic development, while RJC seems to have the sole focus of pushing the students for A Levels.
However, while the Czech students have less homework and generally have more fun, they still have exams and stress. They acknowledged that their perceptions of our education system could be just due to unfamiliarity, as after spending many years in the Czech system, they felt that it was more natural. They also saw merit in our education system as good preparation for the rigour of university.
Additionally, they commented that we are very lucky to have the resources and facilities in RI, which is huge compared to their school, such as our own Performing Arts Centre. We also have gardens around the school, such as the sculpture garden between Blocks A and B which they like to visit, and they found that it made the general environment very pleasant and conducive for learning. As an example of how much resources we have available to us, the Czech students noted how we waste lots of chemicals here in RI during class, especially after lab sessions where we pour entire beakers and burettes of chemicals down the sink, something that is completely forbidden in the Czech Republic.
The Singapore experience
Some landmarks the Czech students visited were the Singapore Flyer, Gardens by the Bay, East Coast Park, Sentosa and Chinese Gardens. Surprisingly the favorites were the parks Gardens by the Bay and Chinese Gardens. Jakub added that his favorite training ground for his running exercises was MacRitchie and praised that ‘it’s like a forest in the city.’
The funniest incident of their trip occurred in Sentosa when the students and their buddies wanted to save money riding the Luge by buying the family package. So two of the oldest students tried to be the ‘parents’ while the rest had to be the ‘kids’. To make matters worse, the ‘kids’ were a mix of Chinese, Indian and European while the ‘parents’ were European. In the end, although they managed to buy the family set tickets, they were denied entry onto the Luge and had to get their tickets refunded and buy the separate single rider tickets.
Regarding cuisine, Vojtēch found the chilli crab they ate at Jumbo Seafood most memorable, while Svatava felt that Thai noodles were her favorite. Jakub found the Chendol dessert the most delicious, while Adèla enjoyed all the seafood dishes, seafood being a real luxury in the Czech Republic as the country is landlocked and fresh seafood is expensive.
When asked what were some of the popular dishes in Czech Republic, the students described for us Vepřo-knedlo-zelo, which was roast pork with dumplings and sauerkraut (a type of fermented cabbage), and Svíčková, a cream-based dish with spiced vegetables served with meat (such as sirloin or venison) as two of the well-known dishes in Czech Republic.
They found that the weather here is much more hot and humid than in the Czech Republic. There, the temperature is also more varied. The weather averages around eight degrees throughout the year, although it can get as hot as 40C in summer and -40C in winter.
In general, they found Singaporeans more open and social. They were also very welcoming and treated them well, albeit differently from the locals. They commented that people in the Czech republic are nice too, but they are less open to strangers and especially foreigners.
The particularly memorable event was when they had to give an introductory speech in front of the entire school. Vojtēch said he was particularly nervous speaking to the hundreds of students but was relieved when all the words just flowed out naturally.
As parting comments, the Czech students wanted to remind us to “be thankful for the resources and facilities that you have and stay as nice as you were to us, all the time”. They also thanked their classmates and teachers who were very friendly and welcoming (especially Svatava’s class which had a small celebration).