Global Exchange trip to South Africa

17 June 2024

In April, Olivia and Sophie from the Upper Fifth (Year 11) had the amazing opportunity to visit South Africa as part of the Global Schools’ Exchange Programme. Their exchange took place at Beaulieu College.

School Life

Beaulieu College is a co-ed, day school on the outskirts of Johannesburg, so we stayed with separate host families and went home every day after school. The school days were very short, from 7.30 in the morning to 2.30 in the afternoon, but we often had netball training after school.  

Life at Beaulieu was similar to most day schools but much more relaxed compared to Downe. We often had informal, student-led assemblies where we practiced ‘war cries’, and were allowed to always speak, contribute and even eat in class, making class much more enjoyable but also effective. Relationships between teachers and students were also much more casual, as we often talked to our teachers as if they were our friends. 

During our time at school, we had a careers fair which gave people’s parents different opportunities to tell us about their career and give people an insight on jobs they might want to do in the future.

Olivia: I was also very lucky to meet the South African, Olympic gold medal winning 800metre runner Caster Semenya who gave us an interesting talk on her life as an athlete and the struggles she has faced with having higher testosterone levels than an average woman.


Sophie: Sport is very important at Beaulieu. I had the opportunity to experience a ‘derby’ with their rival school, St Peter’s College, which is kind of like sports day but with another school. Everyone was very passionate, and the games (netball, hockey and rugby) were very intense, especially the 1st team boys’ rugby and 1st team girls’ hockey. We had a great time cheering on our school and friends with war cries.  

Olivia: I went to Saint’s Fest with my buddy and our friends. We all gathered at St Stithians College to watch the hockey and then the rugby matches with everyone participating in the war cries. After the matches were done, the school put music on and it became a festival with everyone from different schools gathered on the rugby pitch. This was a great way for Sophie and I to make lots of new friends, including outside of Beaulieu. 

Home Life

Sophie: Both our host families were very welcoming, and we both really enjoyed our stay with them. My buddy, Mireille, and I often went swimming at the local country club or spent time with our friends after school, either shopping in Sandton or visiting each other’s houses. We would then either have dinner at home, often a very delicious traditional ‘braai’, as South Africans call a barbeque, or dinner at their favourite restaurants.  

Olivia: Most evenings after school my buddy Lihle and I would stay to watch rugby training with our friends and usually get food all together after. We would also go shopping at the Mall of Africa, go swimming and play tennis with her little brother at home. For dinners, as Sophie said, we mainly had braais but something interesting I tried was bape which is a common food for people to have instead of rice. 


Sophie: Both Olivia and I were lucky enough to go on a trip to other parts of the country during our stay, as I went to Cape Town for the Easter Weekend with my host family and Olivia to Durban. I had the most exciting time at Cape Town as we went to many famous sights such as Table Mountain, the V&A Waterfront, many beautiful and historic vineyards such as Babylonstoren and even Cape Point, the southernmost area of Africa. Cape Town is one of the most scenic cities I have ever visited, with breath-taking views of both mountains and the ocean. There was also a wide variety of delicious fresh food and things to do, as I played paddle for the first time next to Clifton beach and went shopping in many traditional markets. It was fascinating to see the difference between Cape Town and London both being capitals of their country.  

Olivia: I was very lucky to be able to go to Durban with my buddy’s dad and her step mum. We stayed in a house by the sea where we enjoyed spectacular sunsets and evening swims. We explored Durban city, and it was amazing to see the difference between London and Durban. We then drove down to Ballito where my host family also took me on the games drives which were so cool to be able to see the big 5 – it was amazing to see how the hippos just walk on the streets in the evening! Whilst there, I got to try fresh pineapple from the pineapple farms which have such a different taste to the ones in the UK, and a sugar cane which was a really weird experience. 

Final days

In the last few days of our 3-week exchange, we went to ‘camp’ with the whole year group. Camp was a great experience for both of us to bond with completely different people as we were separated from each other and our buddies during the day. We also lived in dorms with our group of friends and had a lot of fun staying up, which wasn’t new for us coming from boarding school, and did a variety of activities throughout the days. Camp was such a fun time and we both had some very difficult goodbyes to make with all our friends from the school.

This experience left us both feeling connected emotionally to not just our buddies but everyone we met, the culture and the country.
– Sophie, Upper Fifth (Year 11)

We are so grateful to Downe, Beaulieu and our fantastic host families for this amazing and unique experience we will never forget. We have made friends for life and will both definitely be going back to Africa to explore this amazing country further.

Find out more about the Global Schools’ Exchange Programme here.


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