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Connecting Global Experiences with Harkness Discussion

The Grade 10 Exchange Program provides an invaluable opportunity for students to experience a different school and culture while continuing their academic learning abroad. Olivia C. '22 and Olivia J. '22 went on exchange to South Africa during this past year and were able to reflect and share stories with peers in their Grade 10 English class when a Harkness table discussion on Trevor Noah's book, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, resonated with their personal experiences.

Olivia C. '22

Hi, my name is Olivia Cantelon. I'm a Grade 10 student at Lakefield College School. I recently just went on my 3-month exchange to South Africa. Coming home was a bit of a shock considering that we aren’t able to go back to school, but so far Lakefield has been making the best of the remote learning considering our circumstances.

Yesterday we had a virtual Harkness discussion in English class on Zoom. The book we were reading just happened to be Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. I think I can say for everyone in the class that it was a great book, and for me, I found that I could really connect his stories to my time in South Africa.

In preparation for our Harkness discussion, we had to connect our thoughts from the book and any personal connections we had to the book. We responded to one of four prompts on a platform called Parlay. We also were to read others’ responses and comment/ask a clarifying question about their answer to one of the prompts. This is a common exercise that we do in preparation for our Harkness discussions so that, when we have the discussion, there are lots of people's minds to discuss. The prompt that resonated with me the most and brought up a memory from my time in South Africa was a question about racial privilege. During the discussion I had a peer ask me a question about how I could relate my experience in South Africa to some of the stories in Trevor’s book. I responded by telling them about what I wrote in my response in Parlay and how it tied in to the topic of racial privilege. When I was in South Africa I volunteered at a soup kitchen in one of the townships in a little village just outside of where our school was, and I met an inspiring man named David. David had grown up in the Franschhoek township in one of the many Shanti huts in the township. He told us about how when he was younger he never knew when his next meal was going to be so he would eat a bit for dinner, and even though he was still hungry, he would save the rest so that he could have breakfast the next morning. Now that’s just one of his stories as to how he was not as privileged as someone who lived in the village of Franschhoek in a nice brick-built house; he proved to us that if you work hard and believe in yourself that you are equally as worthy as anybody else; you can achieve as many opportunities and privileges. This was just one of my experiences and memories that the book brought up and that I was able to share in our Harkness with my peers.

Being in South Africa and experiencing their culture from the perspective of a local rather than a tourist, changed my perspective on how culturally different South Africa is than Canada. I consider South Africa, now, like my second home. 

Olivia J. '22
Hi, I’m Olivia Johnston and I am also a Grade 10 student at Lakefield who went on exchange to South Africa this winter. While I was in South Africa, my English class was reading Born A Crime, which is written by Trevor Noah and is about some of his memories of his childhood in South Africa. When reading this novel I found myself constantly thinking back to times when I was away. 

We recently had a Harkness Discussion around many topics including racial privilege. Harkness encourages and teaches us to listen to other people’s perspectives, while also having the opportunity to contribute our own in a respectful way. Even though we were doing this virtually on Zoom I was still able to contribute about my experience living and being immersed in South Africa. This allowed me to have an even deeper perspective to bring to our Zoom Harkness. When the discussion centred on racial privilege I was reminded of the tension I felt between my own privileged position as an exchange student while being able to see that not everyone lives this kind of life. Unfortunately this often centred around race. Even though history tells us that apartheid is over, I was regularly reminded of its lasting effects. 

Sitting around a virtual Harkness table over Zoom lets us consider an issue, question or perspective and learn how to voice our opinion in a respectful way. Listening to others is an important skill and it often results in a change of outlook and perspective. Despite the past history of South Africa, if more people were able to have, and be aware of Harkness skills, such as being open to and changing their opinions regardless of the colour of their skin or their cultural background, the world would be a better place.


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4391 County Road 29, Lakefield Ontario K0L 2H0   705.652.3324   admissions@lcs.on.ca


Lakefield College School is a private, coeducational boarding and day school for students in grades 9 through 12, located in Lakefield, Ontario, Canada.

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