There were smiles, hugs and some tears at Wyevale Central Public School during a farewell assembly Friday for ten exchange students and three teachers from Pune, India.
The success of the week-long visit could be measured in the boisterous circle of students from both countries belting out Justin Beiber's song 'Baby' on a karaoke mic in the gym.
One of the organizers was Mali Bickley, a retired teacher who works with an international organization called IEARN, the International Education and Resource Network and consults with Taking It Global, an organization that connects students in projects that address global issues.
"It's just been a dream come true," said Bickley, who chose the community of Wyevale in Tiny Township for the exchange.
"The students wanted a typical Canadian experience and what better way to do it than in a rural area of Ontario. It's so beautiful here. There's lakes and farms and rivers and just wonderful families," said Bickley.
Dr. Sunita Bhagwat helped organize the trip from her school in India where she's a teacher and director.
200 students applied for the exchange but only ten were chosen.
"It's a very great place," Bhagwat said of Wyevale. "We were very happy to be in this calm and quiet place because we come from, oh my god, it's very frantic and a lot of traffic and noise around. This is a very clean place and everybody is so welcoming."
Mixed teams from both schools worked together to create prototypes to help reduce carbon footprints like a solar cooker, paper bags out of newspapers and reusing plastic to create a jewelry stand.
Pune student Jansavi Latuikai, 13, called it a 'thrilling and wonderful experience.'
"We had a glance at your culture. We learned how to be united with people across the globe," she said.
Jansavi particularly enjoyed their trip to Niagara Falls where students went on the Maid of the Mist.
But the personal connections were equally, if not more strong, than the cultural ones.
"They are really friendly. They were eager to share their experiences with us but then they were also patient to listen to what we had to tell them."
Wyevale Grade 8 student Owen Pagliaro was impressed with how much the visitors knew about Canada and their 'great manners.'
"The main thing that I learned was respect for older people. It was very influencing because sometimes kids nowadays don't respect their parents at all. They were very respectful to everyone and I really like that," said Pagliaro.
The students are always involved in online collaboration but this was the first time international counterparts had physically come to Wyevale.
"We saw first hand the power of the collaborations and how the students were taking the issue about global warming and organically they learned so much about each other's country," Bickley. "For example, things like patterns in traffic. Wyevale is completely different than Pune, but they all realize they call can make a positive impact.
Fellow organizer Jim Carleton, a teacher and librarian at the small, rural school, was moved to tears as he addressed the assembly.
"They've all been such amazingly open and generous people that I just feel that in my heart and I just can't help it," he explained after, noting the strong connections made between host families and the students who typically interact online.
"There's nothing like when you actually meet face to face. For them it's opened up their eyes to the world and I honestly believe that some of them will make their way to stay with students in India."