– Learners who are in Grade 9 and 10 in 2023 (Grade 8 and 9 in 2022), go to Reunion in 2024.
– Compulsory meeting (After Application Google Form is completed) is on 24 January 2022.
(New group will be chosen in 2024, with Grade 8 and 9 learners then.)



As teachers at different schools in Nelspruit at the time, a colleague and myself had the opportunity to visit Reunion Island in September 2000, when we accompanied a group of school pupils from Gauteng to this exotic destination. There we discovered, amongst other things, that the educational authorities actively support the concept of English school teachers traveling with some of their best English language classes to English speaking countries abroad in order to promote the English communication skills of these pupils, and to give them first hand exposure to the language and culture of the foreign country. Due to a dormant interest sparked by previous encounters with the concept of student exchanges, this motivated us to start working on some unique educational programs with which we could lure some of these overseas schools to visit South Africa, and the Nelspruit area in particular, at that time. We had our first school visiting South Africa in March 2001 during the school holidays. Soon the demand became quite substantial, and we started wondering how we could make it possible for our South African pupils to also visit Reunion Island in return, as a true Exchange Program should involve return visits between both destinations.

Our first option was to offer return programs to Reunion Island with a considerable price tag attached (as Reunion Island remains a very expensive destination indeed, this currently would come to an amount in access of R18 000-00 per person). The definite drawback of this option, from our point of view, is that only those kids j9juwho’s parents could afford such a trip would then eventually be able to participate, whereas the pupils who can’t afford it, are often the ones who gain the most from it. The second option, and indeed the one that we have adhered to, was to try and find a way in which we could make it possible for ANY child to participate, without too much of a financial implication as a stumbling block towards realizing such a project. This approach is what shaped the way in which the Exchange Program is structured at present.

The direct and indirect input (by means of grants, sponsorships and fundraising initiatives) of various organiza-tions and private individuals (local and abroad) makes it possible to finance this Exchange Program. It means that any prospective candidate can fully benefit from this unique experience simply as a result of his / her enthusiastic desire to participate.

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The cultural immersion of our youth by means of student exchange programs, from a global perspective, is by no means a new concept. The value of these cultural immersions lies, in principle, in the establishment of cross-cultural relationships, the promotion of cross-cultural skills and understanding, and the widening of global perspectives in a society where globalization is rapid and inevitable. Due to our political policies of the past, South African schools have been largely neglected by the international community in this regard. Opportunities started opening up only recently, allowing our local youth to also start tapping into the real value and potential of these Cultural Exchange Programs. The value and priority of cross-cultural interaction for our youth today should not be underestimated, as it represents an important aspect of education that is very often severely neglected in our South African schools to this day, mostly due to various practical and financial difficulties.

What makes this Exchange Program with France (and more particularly Reunion Island) unique, is the fact that it involves reasonably large numbers of pupils at a time, and the immersion period is very short compared to traditional Exchange Programs, where individuals would normally stay in a foreign country for longer periods of up to 6 months or a year.

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As a standard, we prefer to start working with South African pupils that are entering their grade 9 or 10 school year (for high school) or their grade 5 or 6 school year (for primary school). Experience taught us to stay clear of the grade 12 year, as the final school year for most pupils automatically fills up with seemingly more challen-ges that they normally think they could deal with … the high priority on academic achievement obviously being one of the major ones…. Ideally a group of between 16 and 18 pupils from a specific school becomes involved in the Exchange Program for what should normally be a maximum period of two years, at the end of which the group departs to Reunion Island on an Exchange visit to meet up again with some of the pupils that previously visited them in South Africa. We currently work with different schools in the Nelspruit and Cape Town areas.

The ideal candidate for this Exchange Program can be described as a broad-minded, sociable child with a keen interest to meet foreign pupils of more or less the same age, and to explore other cultures and different ways of life. The child must be keen to travel to a foreign destination overseas with the group at the end of the involvement period in order to have a first hand experience of the lifestyle, the culture, the language and the extraordinary natural beauty of Reunion Island, and also to experience the thrill of international travel (for those who haven’t traveled overseas before). In addition, the ideal candidate would realize the vast educational value locked up in this experience, and would be naturally inclined to make the most of this opportunity.

Candidates for this program need to attend school from home, and pupils boarding in school hostels can unfortunately not be accommodated, for obvious reasons. 

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After formal twinning agreements have been signed between the headmasters of the schools involved (locally and abroad), groups of pupils from different schools in Reunion Island would visit local schools in the Nelspruit and Cape Town areas on a semi-regular basis throughout the year. These visits are strictly educational with strong cultural and linguistic undertones, and it forms an important part of the national curriculum in Reunion Island and France. Each program is uniquely structured according to a specific set of standards and require-ments determined mainly by their Department of Education, and typically lasts for anything between 10 and 15 days. These educational trips are mostly facilitated in English class context, which means that each visiting group therefore usually consists of a whole English class (between 25 and 35 pupils on average) accompanied by their English subject teacher and 2 or 3 additional teachers from the school.

The basic educational program can be divided into two distinct phases: Phase one (usually the first week) focuses strongly on cultural interaction and the establishment of cross cultural and inter-school relationships, as well as a total immersion in the English language. This is achieved in the context of a homestay with South African host families, and close interaction with the local partnership school. The visiting pupils would spend their mornings at school busy with English language tuition provided by a private tutor, followed by educational outings in the afternoons (cultural, historical, sport and nature). During most evenings, and usually also over the weekend, they would then spend time with their various host families, who always welcome these foreign pupils with traditional South African hospitality. During this phase of the program, the teachers accompanying the group also have the opportunity to meet with some local teachers from the partnership school in their respective fields of interest. Phase two (usually the second week) consists of educational tourism, during which the group follows a carefully planned itinerary, which aims at offering them the ultimate educational experience within the area that they choose to visit! The itinerary covers a rich diversity of different facets of the history, culture and natural environment of each of the areas we operate in.

The participation of our South African school pupils in the exchange program has been structured as follows:

Basic concept for Mpumalanga: Any South African learner entering the Project, needs to host visiting pupils from Reunion Island (2 learners at a time) for a total period of 4 weeks (between 28 and 30 days) during the estimated 2 year span of the Project, in order to be able to participate in the final stage of the Program, which is a Return Exchange Trip to Reunion Island with a duration of 8 days. All basic costs (including the air ticket) of this Exchange Trip to Reunion Island, are covered by the child’s full participation in the Exchange Program!

The first step is obviously always to select a core group of between 16 and 18 participants from a participating local South African school. All interested candidates (which normally numbers in access of the number required) are initially considered. From here, and depending on some basic criteria, a final list of the most suitable candidates is then established, with the help of the Headmaster and the grade teachers involved.

At least four different schools from Reunion will then be twinned with, and will consequently be scheduled to visit this particular South African school during the course of the following two years. The overseas visitors usually start E-mail communication with their host families in South Africa a few months prior to their arrival.  After their eventual arrival, the pupils from each of these Reunionese schools will then be hosted by the chosen group of South African hosts during the school integration phase of their various programs. Each South African host participating will therefore need to receive visitors from Reunion for a total accumulative period of about 4 weeks (between 28 and 30 days to be exact) during the project span of 2 years, in order to fully qualify for the Return Exchange Trip to Reunion Island, scheduled towards the end of the project cycle of 2 years.

In the early years, visiting schools could choose for how many days they wanted their learners to be hosted by the South African correspondents, which made it impossible for us to standardize the number of times during which our local families would need to receive foreign visitors during the span of the Program. However, we decided not to give any visiting school the option of shortening the school interaction phase of their Program any more, even in cases where the total program duration is only 10 days. The implication of this decision is that the foreign visitors are now always hosted by the South African school for basically one week at a time, which means that each South African participant will receive two visitors at a time for a total of 4 times during the total span of the Program (in other words twice a year on average). Families will be notified in the unlikely event of any deviation from this arrangement. As we have no control over exactly when these Educational Programs will take place, it remains impossible to predict how these 4 weeks will be spread over the two years. It might also happen that two of these 4 weeks follow each other directly during a very busy month.

It is important to note that we also have no exact control over the numbers of foreign visitors in each group, the gender ratios, and the age of the pupils. This means that the allocation of the pairs between families always remains a hairy issue, and it has to be planned in the finest of detail. It is therefore understandable that not all the South African hosts in a group will always be able to host all together at the same time. In should further be understandable that the visiting groups would not always be of the same gender ratio, or the exact same age as the South African hosts, and a standard deviation of around two to three years younger, or older, should be anticipated. It is our responsibility, as project coordinators, to do the allocation of the pairs in such a way that all the exchange participants meet the specified program requirements by the end of the exchange cycle of 2 years. Please note that the day of arrival (visitors usually meet their host families during the late afternoon), and the day of departure (visitors are usually dropped for departure at around 07h00 in the morning, but it could be earlier on occasion, depending on constantly changing airline departure schedules) will be calculated as a single day hosting only. In the few isolated instances where a single child (and not a pair) has to be placed in a family (due to uneven group numbers or absolute demand by the French teachers accompanying the group), the single child will be considered as a pair, and the Host family will not be penalized in any way!

South African host families will usually receive the exact hosting dates for the year well in advance. Once made public, these hosting dates are considered final. Slight date changes might occur during the course of the year due to unexpected happenings in Reunion, which remains beyond our control. We will inform all host families immediately in the event of any such changes. Groups are most likely to visit during the months of March, May and October. Hosting always happens during school time, and not during any of the South African school holidays. If the odd exception does occur, we will ensure that hosting does not extend further than a maximum of 3 days into school holiday time. We ask all host families please to put a high priority on the hos-ting dates allocated to them in the beginning of the year. This is vital in order to enable us to do our planning without any complications! We need to be informed, at least 4 weeks before the arrival of the visitors, of any developments that could jeopardize any of the hosting dates previously agreed upon by any host family! This will allow us enough time to find alternative solutions. Please note that there can be no guarantee that we would be able to reschedule a hosting period that is agreed upon, and then forfeited on notice of shorter than four weeks (or for reasons we deem to be unconvincing in terms of the nature of this commitment). Such for- feiture is likely to bear a certain financial implication for the host, regarding the eventual return exchange trip.

All communication between us as project facilitators and host families will be channeled via, and coordinated by, a specific teacher in the school who will assume shared responsibility of the project. This teacher will also accompany the group of exchange participants on their trip to Reunion, and will be responsible for maintaining the customary, disciplinary environment that needs to be present on any educational school trip of this nature.  

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The week integration in the school (and the stay with local families) is all very carefully planned beforehand according to a detailed program. The organization and facilitation of this program will be fully taken in hand by us as the project coordinators, obviously in close collaboration with the school authorities and parents involved. The immersion is organized in such a way that it takes place without any deliberate inconvenience to the school or the hosting families, and it should not interfere with the normal day-to-day functioning of the school or the family unit in any substantial way…The visiting pupils are dropped at school in the mornings with their host, after which they spend the whole morning at school with a private English teacher. The afternoons are set aside for various educational outings in and around Nelspruit. The visitors are then usually picked up again at around 17h00 in the afternoons, with their host, from school. An outing is also organized during one of the evenings, thus creating a contact opportunity between the two groups of pupils. The South African hosts are usually invited along to some of these afternoon or evening outings, but their participation is mostly optional in order to respect prior commitments within their own school environment… We do however request to please have all the hosts join in the evening activity (most likely action cricket or dinner at a restaurant), as these outings are especially aimed at providing the learners with an opportunity to get to know each other better. The meals and activities that the South Africans are invited for, will be paid for by the Exchange Program.

The visiting pupils spend most of the evenings during the week with the host family, and usually also a full weekend. The basic expectation is for the host families to treat these visiting pupils as part of the family during this period of time, but not to specifically feel obliged to bend over backwards to keep them constantly enter-tained. The visiting children need to experience typical South African family life first hand, and need to fit in and adapt to the daily routine of the family and the food that they eat (within reasonable limits). Having said this, our South African host families have gained a reputation over the years for always spoiling these foreign visitors with lots of love and attention. It would be unreasonable to expect any of these visitors to sit and watch TV every night! They are spending time in the South African host families mainly to further their English communicational skills, and also to discover a new culture. Please help the shy ones achieve this by luring them into English conversation. Most South African host families like to treat these visitors, especially over the weekends, with something special and very South African, which is of course always highly appreciated by the visitors, by their teachers, and also by ourselves. For obvious reasons, the medium of communication around these foreign visitors needs to be English strictly. However, they always love to be taught some words and sayings in any one of our other 10 official languages.

The kids have an official outing organized for them during one of the evenings in the week, and there is no particular expectation from their teachers, or ourselves as the facilitators, for any other informal social activities to be arranged. However, it would be perfectly in order if some families want to organize / facilitate such gatherings / outings amongst themselves, within the host family context, as long as it always takes place with the consent, and under the responsible supervision of, all the parents involved.        

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Reunion Island is a French Department situated about 200km south-west of the island Mauritius, and it boasts a population of around 800 000 people. As a department of France, Reunion is fully managed by the French government, and it is subjected to exactly the same laws and regulations as it applies on mainland France. The historical origins of the current population is partly French, Indian, Chinese and Creole, and aspects of these origins are still clearly visible in the culture, religion, and features of the inhabitants of the Island. Reunion is considered an important outpost for mainland France, allowing them to retain a presence in the Indian Ocean.

The Capital is a medium-sized, coastal city named Saint Denis, situated in the North. A number of towns are scattered along the coastal lowlands. The really small villages are found along the southern and south-eastern slopes of the Island, due to the increased Volcanic activity along these parts. Some small, primitive villages can also be found in the original inland craters of the volcano, due to the inaccessibility of these areas.

Reunion can be summarized as a majestic, mountain kingdom with black volcanic beaches, white coral beaches, boulder beaches and sheer volcanic cliffs decorating the coastal circumference of a volcanic interior, which soars to a height of more than 3 km. Big parts of the Island is covered in tropical forests, and where villages encroaches upon the forest slopes, they follow the steep, narrow ridges of the outer contours in order to stay clear of the masses of water rushing down the steep hillsides during the cyclone season (January).

Probably the most amazing attraction of the Island is “Piton de la Fournaise”, one of the most active volcanoes on earth! The year 2004 alone has seen it erupt 3 times, the last of these eruptions occurring approximately 2½ months before our group of exchange pupils arrived there in November 2004. During 2005 the volcano erupted twice, with the second of these eruptions happening the day after our 2005-group of exchange pupils left the island. It erupted again in August 2006, January 2007, and finally, September 2008 while we were on the Island with our 2008-group of exchange pupils. Further eruptions took place in 2009, 2010 and 2014. The most recent eruption lasted for 6 weeks, from August 2015 to October 2015. “Piton de la Fournaise” is a shield volcano, renowned for its controlled eruptions in a semi-regular fashion, which is what makes it such a popular tourist attraction, and rest assured…. a very safe one as well!

The main farming practice on the Island is the growing of sugar cane. Other products that are cultivated on a smaller scale, includes vanilla, coconuts, palm-heart as a vegetable, litchis, pineapples and ginger. The variety of birds and animals on the island is not spectacular, as the island rose from the Indian Ocean only 3 million years ago (which is very recent in geological terms). Not enough time has passed, prior to human inhabitation, for a large variety of animal species to become established on the Island. However, a substantial collection of endemic plants can be found, especially in the more remote areas untouched by human intervention.

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At the end of the immersion cycle of approximately two years, the group of South African exchange partici-pants will depart to Reunion Island as a group, visiting the pupils they received in return, in their own schools and homes abroad. The total cost of this Educational Exchange Trip overseas will be paid by the Exchange Program, and basically includes the return air ticket, airport taxes, courier costs, meals and accommodation in Reunion Island, all bus charter transport on the Island, and all entrance and participation fees.

The group of kids will be accompanied by the teacher in charge of the Project at school, as well as myself and my French colleague Nathalie as the project coordinators. The exact time frame for the trip will be finalized a few months before departure, but these exchange return trips are normally scheduled towards the end of the year, ideally during the short September school break.

As some families prefer to see their kids off at O.R. Tambo International Airport personally (and/or fetch them on arrival), the transport of the exchange participants to and from the airport, will be left up to the families, or alternatively the school, to arrange on their own cost.

The visit to Reunion will take the form of a structured, educational experience with the main focus on the discovery of a foreign culture and a different way of life, as well as the exploration of a variety of unique attractions that a tropical island like Reunion has to offer. The South African pupils will be hosted by families in Reunion, similar to the way in which our South African families have hosted the visiting Reunionese pupils.

However, the South Africans should be prepared to be hosted individually in families, as the houses in Reunion are generally smaller than those in South Africa, and the vast majority of families only have space for one extra child in the house. The group of South Africans will meet every morning at school, from where they will depart, together as a group, on their various outings and activities.  They will return to school at around 17h00 on most afternoons, where they will be picked up by the various Reunionese host families again. As this Exchange Pro-gram engages a total of around 6 local schools on a continuous basis, it is likely that South African Exchange students of more than one school could share the same bus during their daily outings in Reunion Island.

The basic itinerary can be summarized as follows, and will be finalized in detail just prior to the departure to Reunion Island:


Sunday: Arrival at Roland Garros International Airport. Kids are welcomed by the various host families at the airport, and the families accompany them home from the airport.
Monday:     Day outing to the summit of the active Volcano, “Piton de la Fournaise”, and visit to the Volcano Museum in “Plaines des Caffres”.
Tuesday:     Day outing to Cilaos Village in the main crater of the original Volcanic peak. Access to Cilaos via one of the most extraordinary mountain passes ever constructed. Canyoning and hiking in the volcanic mountains around Cilaos Village. Shopping in the Village.
Wednesday:   Early morning at the French school attending some classes. Social gathering at the Ten                       Pin Bowling Arena in Saint Denis afterwards. Bowling for the rest of the afternoon.
Thursday:     Day at the Beach at the tourist village of “Saint Gilles Les Bains”. Shopping in town. Viewing the coral reefs along the north-western coastline from a Glass Bottom Boat. Frequent spotting of shoals of flying fish from the boat along this coastline. Snorkeling and other water sports / chilling out at “Le’Hermitage” Beach Area.
Friday:     Scenic Day Drive around Island – Visiting the most recent lava flows in the vicinity of “Piton Saint Rose”. Visit to a Vanilla Cooperation at “Bras Panon”, where the preparation of Vanilla from the Vanilla orchid, is explained and demonstrated.
Saturday: Spending the day at leisure with the Local Host Family.
Sunday: Dropped at the Airport by the host family. Return to South Africa with Air Austral.

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If the participant changes to another school in the Nelspruit area, there would be no implication whatsoever. The host then simply completes the remaining hosting requirement, even though it means that the foreign visi-tors will have to be dropped at a different school in the mornings, and not the new school attended by the host.

However, should the participant move to a new school outside the immediate Nelspruit area, it would obviously be practically impossible to continue with the project, in which case the participant will receive financial compensation for his/her participation in the project up to the point of relocation. It is important to note that we, as project coordinators, directly manage only a portion of the project funds intended for each project, and that the amount payable in a case like this would currently be around R200-00 per day hosted. It would in other words not directly represent a pro-rata fraction of the total value of the Project.

All the funding that we receive for the Program, is strictly based on a return visit to Reunion for all the South African hosting pupils involved. We therefore have an obligation, as project coordinators, to ensure that the schools involved in Reunion indeed receive the South African pupils partaking in the Exchange Program. Any participant who therefore fails to complete the hosting requirement, for reasons other than relocation, will automatically forfeit any financial Project value, and will usually be replaced by a new participant in order to try and maintain the original group size. The new project participant, or participants, will automatically gain the project value forfeited by the previous participant, or participants, and will only need to complete the remaining hosting requirement in order to qualify for the exchange trip overseas. In cases where no replacement is forthcoming, the Project value forfeited by such a participant will then be used to the benefit of the remaining Project participants (for instance to cover costs due to any eventual shortfall on the accumulative hosting requirement for the group, sometimes caused by unforeseen circumstances). In the event of us, the project coordinators, being unable to continue with the program for whatever reason, each exchange participant will receive financial compensation for his/her participation in the project, up the point of termination, to the value of R250-00 per day hosted.

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