“It was a real adventure,” said Roger Beech, Assistant Headteacher at Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy. “It’s not every day you get the opportunity to go to South America.
“The pupils have learned so much. Some of them didn’t have a passport, they haven’t really left Llanrwst. To leave Llanrwst and go to an airport and travel on an aeroplane for that long was an experience in itself for a lot of these pupils. It was huge.
“And then to land in this amazing place in the tropics, in this vibrant, busy, multi-cultural and quite heavily populated destination; it was so different.
“There are so many educational benefits that I could talk about from this trip, but more than anything it is the fact these pupils got to experience a new culture and language and learn about a different way of life. It was such an eye opener for them.”
The 34 learners from Year’s 9 and 10 plus 4 members of staff stayed with host families from exchange school Colegio Colombo Británico in the community of Cali for the 10-day mobility.
Mr Beech said: “When we landed we had a reception party waiting for us at the airport, families there with banners, some even with Welsh words. I couldn’t get over the welcome and it’s something our learners are unlikely to experience again so from the first moment, it was just unbelievable.
“Everybody made such great friends with their host family and towards the end of the trip our pupils were all asking to stay, they didn’t want to go home! They had such an amazing time and the families were all crying when it was time for us to leave. A lot of them are still in contact now.”
Taith funding can include provision for preparatory visits in advance of mobilities which allows organisers to scope out destinations, meet with partner organisations, and plan itineraries and activities.
Mr Beech said: “I was allocated to go on the recce trip which was pivotal in taking this forward. I was able to visit the school and check everything they had in place in terms of health and safety and how the families are vetted. They dotted every I and crossed every T. I got to see everything and was confident and reassured in what I was able to bring back and communicate to the school and to parents.
“It was also a great opportunity to meet with families from the Colombian school and get them on board for the return element of the exchange. I talked about Wales, our community, our pupils and their interests and answered all of their questions. By the end, they were really keen and wanted their children to have a Welsh experience.
“When I got back we started to hold assemblies and information sessions in school with pupils and parents and one of the questions was “why Colombia?” Our response was pupils are more likely to have the opportunity to go to France or Spain on holiday with their families, but it’s not every day you get the opportunity to go to South America and experience a completely new culture, language and climate.
“Then prior to the trip, we provided families with each other’s contact details and encouraged them on both sides to FaceTime and introduce each other.”
Taith aims to introduce and spread the message of Wales as an ambitious, outward-looking and forward-thinking destination that also enjoys a rich culture and proud history.
This mobility to Colombia coincided with St David’s Day which included a celebration of all things Welsh.
“Events and assemblies were held at the school where the pupils did Welsh plays and the younger children had learned Welsh,” said Mr Beech. “We sang the Welsh national anthem as a group and performed some other Welsh songs. Quite a few of our pupils had bought their hosts Welsh bucket hats as gifts, and they loved our pupils speaking Welsh to each other.
“The schools and our host families really seemed to fall in love with Wales and our pupils were amazing. They were such a good group and so well behaved, I feel that we really showcased Wales in a superb light.”
Now Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy are busy preparing for staff and learners from the Colombian school to visit them in Llanrwst this summer.
“This whole experience really has been a huge success,” said Mr Beech. “It has had a big impact on our school and community, and everybody is looking forward to welcoming the Colombians to Llanrwst and showing them our community. It has been more successful than we ever envisaged.”