New Exchange Program Opens with Mayfield School in England

Exchange students speak to lower school groupWhile many of their classmates were enjoying vacation time, four students from Mayfield School in East Sussex, England, chose to spend their half-term break exploring Oak Knoll and the environs in an inaugural student exchange between the two Holy Child Network schools. 

Ayomide Olamosu, Angela Ibironke, Darcy Caheny, and Julia Denhartog ventured across the pond to experience life at a sister school and immerse themselves in American culture. They were graciously hosted for two weeks by the families of Sally Marchesi ’26, Maddie Martin ’26, Savannah Ramdass ’26, and Anna Chamberlin ’26.

In addition to attending classes, meaningfully engaging with Upper school students, and participating in Oak Knoll’s Annual Service Day on October 26, the visiting students took a sightseeing trip to New York City, afternoon trips to local stores, and participated in a Sunday barbeque at the Marchesi house. They also enjoyed outings with their host families, such as attending a homecoming game at a local high school, attending a Broadway play, and visiting the American Dream Mall.

The Mayfield students also visited and interacted with Lower School students — speaking to the grade 5/6 Culture Club, presenting at a Lower School Assembly, and visiting classrooms to talk with all grade levels.

“I participated in the exchange because I wanted to explore America,” said Olamosu. “At first, I thought that the U.K. and America would be similar regarding schools, education, and food. Still, coming here, I’ve realized that the U.S. is very different in culture from the U.K., and I want to relay that message back to my family and friends so that they get excited about visiting.” 

The close relationships between teachers and students at Oak Knoll also struck a chord with Olamosu. “The teachers communicate openly and have a bond with the students. It’s different in England. Teachers have a bond, but it’s more formal — and not as relaxed. I like it here. Students can talk to their teachers conversationally,” she explained.

Ibironke commented that the two schools had many differences in class schedules and course offerings. Her favorite aspect of the trip was a visit to New York City and seeing Rockafeller Center. She also enjoyed staying with a host family. “Their hospitality was great. I just felt very welcomed into their home, and I felt like they catered to all my needs. They’re just a really fun family to have,” she said.

Both Caheny and Denhartog felt the trip had a significant effect on their maturity. “I feel like I’ve grown generally, and I’m able to now speak to other people better and more easily,” said Caheny. Denhartog added, “It’s quite funny to see how different people are. Some people in the U.K. are initially more reserved, whereas here, the culture seems to be immediately very welcoming.”

Inter-school exchanges in the Holy Child Network are one of many opportunities for our students to venture abroad and benefit from hosting international students here. “Hosting an exchange student has allowed me to understand different perspectives and expand my knowledge of education systems, cuisines, cultures, and mannerisms outside the U.S. Through hosting an exchange student, I have gained not one but four sisters — with whom I will keep lifetime connections,” said Savannah Ramdass ’26 — whose family hosted one of the four visiting students.

Sally Marchesi ’26, whose family also hosted a student, said, “Hosting someone from across the world showed me a different perspective and way of life. It was interesting to learn more about the differences between the U.S. and the U.K., whether they were linguistic or cultural.”

“I learned so much about the U.K. and what life is like at Mayfield. It was a lot of fun to connect with girls from our ‘sister’ school and learn the many similarities and surprising differences between our schools,” added Anna Chamberlin ’26, another student host.

Maddie Martin ’26 had this to say about her guest, “I loved hosting Darcy in my home. She fit right in with my family and felt at home right away. I enjoyed making memories with her and having her as a part of my family. I learned that teenagers — even from far distances — are more alike than I thought.” 

Tragically, the visiting students and their chaperone, Lucinda Misiewicz, an English teacher at Mayfield, left their school just days before receiving word that Antonia Beary, former Head of School at Mayfield, had passed away due to an illness. Beary was a close friend of Oak Knoll Head of School Jennifer Landis. In an assembly last week, Landis led Oak Knoll in prayers for our visitors and the entire Mayfield community in England. On Service Day, the senior class also prepared handmade condolence cards, which the returning students will distribute to members of the Mayfield community.

Commenting on their support from a sister school in the Holy Child Network, Misiewicz said, “We had the misfortune to lose our headmistress. And we could not have been visiting a better place during this time. Oak Knoll has been very supportive. Everyone has been amazing. We’ve been in the right place to cope with the news.”

“I’m cosmopolitan; the whole world is my country,” said Cornelia Connelly, Holy Child founder. This sentiment is also the philosophy of Oak Knoll’s Holy Child Exchanges and the school’s Global Learning Program. Students have the opportunity to understand other cultures while promoting peace, greater understanding, and appreciation for others. 

young students singing