De Beers Olympiad Winners Tell of Their Experience in the UK

From Left: Chaperone & Director of Scifest Africa Anja Fourie, Francois Kassier, chaperone & Olympiad Officer Niki Searle, Kerstin Hall and Kajal Tulsi.

Over 6 000 Senior High school students from around Southern Africa took part in the annual De Beers English Olympiad Exam in March last year. Kajal Tulsi (Edenvale High School), Francois Kassier (Hilton College) and Kerstin Hall (Chester House) were proudly declared the 2010 Top Three Olympiad winners. Due to their outstanding creative essays, they each received an all-expenses paid trip to the UK to experience the English Language and Culture.

Below are letters written by Francois and Kerstin, telling of their experience to the UK. For more information on the project, please see the bottom on this post.

Letter by Francois Kassier:

“I write this letter in the hopes that, through it, I may reveal to you some small part of my gratitude for this trip. More importantly though, I hope that I can successfully relate the importance, relevance and overall impact that this tour has had on me.

Like the mythical end of the rainbow this trip has always seemed rather unobtainable and while I was lucky enough to receive this prize, this year, it actually provided a very important function every year I entered but did not win, not only to me but to every other youth that enters the Olympiad, motivation.

The sheer scale of the prize provides an incentive so powerful that it draws in many kids who would rather be playing soccer etc. and involves them in an extremely rewarding Olympiad, rewarding in that even though the majority may not win anything the sheer act of participation strengthens their mastery of the English language and encourages academic endeavor which can, and does, leak over into their school work. Like a good restaurant the Olympiad thrives on repeat customers and it is your prize that encourages kids to enter again and again by promoting the simple logic that “hey, if you don’t enter you can’t win.” Because the Olympiad is not solely orientated around grammar or syntax but instead places a far greater emphasis on creativity and imagination it provides an opportunity for children of every level of capability a chance to flex their imaginations and soar. Instead of being exclusive to children unusually gifted in a specific field i.e. mathematics, the English Olympiad provides a platform for anyone to explore the richness and diversity of the English language and, in tandem with your prize, does great things for children across this country.

In regards to the actual trip let me extend to you a hearty thank you for what was an absolutely awesome tour. In almost every way the trip provided me with so many opportunities of enrichment and exploration. Although cliché this trip truly has widened both my horizons, perceptions and understandings of so many different areas of both history and modern-day life. The sheer scale of the cathedrals was matched only by the brilliance of the various theatre productions. The richness and awe of the museums was only deepened through the wonder of the real life monuments themselves. But more than the physical, beyond the itinerary, this tour was made special by the people involved and the simple act of exploring a foreign country bursting with both information and excitement. The tour of your London branch proved both intriguing and very enjoyable as the processes involved in your craft were detailed and explained and added the metaphorical cherry on top of an already spectacular tour.

Although I have attempted to relate my gratitude I am afraid that mere black on white will never do justice to your gift. Know that this trip was truly amazing and has meant so much to both myself and Kirstin and Kajal. Thank you, for everything.”

Letter by Kerstin Hall:

Kerstin Hall, Niki Searle & Anja Fourie having fun at an outdoor ice-skating rink.

“I entered the 2010 De Beers English Olympiad and was lucky enough to finish in the Top 3. As a result, I was one of the fortunate recipients of an all-expenses paid trip to England in December 2010, sponsored by your company. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your generosity. It was an incredible trip and I feel extremely privileged to have been a part of it.


Quite apart from being fun, it was also a culturally enlightening and eye-opening journey for me. I have learnt so much about art, history and modern English culture. As I have not travelled much beyond South Africa before, everything was very exciting and so different from what I am used to at home. It has left me with the desire to travel more widely and to see as much of the world as possible. But it has also made me appreciate my home and family more.

Due to this trip I feel I have developed more independence and focus. I’m more willing to take decisions regarding my future after school. This is obviously very important, and I thank you for sending me to all these places and prompting me to stand on my own two feet.

The trip lasted just over two weeks and in that time we visited Canterbury, Salisbury, Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford and London, where we saw the most incredible architecture, visited numerous museums and art galleries  and watched so many wonderful theatre performances. Of all the shows we attended, I am unable to pick a favourite because I liked them all so much! Matilda, Wicked, Warhorse, Thirty-Nine Steps; these are all productions I would probably never have been able to see had I not won this trip and I really loved them all.

Thank you for allowing me to enjoy this amazing experience.”

Information about the De Beers English Olympiad:

The De Beers English Olympiad is a joint project of the Grahamstown Foundation and the South African Council for English Education. It allows senior school pupils to write an examination in English which encourages entrants to be responsible for their own learning, to think and write creatively and to discover the relevance of their studies for themselves and the world around them. The top 15 candidates win a week to the National Schools Festival and the top three win a trip to the United Kingdom to learn more about the  English language and culture. In 2010 the top 50, while subject to university entrance requirements, won a free first year tuition scholarship to Rhodes University. The 2011 exam was written on Tuesday 3 March. Visit our website for more information.

About Schools Festival

The Grahamstown Foundation’s Arts Education Department runs several provincial festivals throughout South Africa. Festivals include the Sasol Schools Festival Series (Mpumalanga, Free State/Northern Cape, and Gauteng) for Grade Elevens and the Standard Bank National Schools Festival for Matrics. Our project serves to ignite a passion for South African arts and develop artists and arts consumers with a culture of ‘paying for the arts’. Self-expression and bridge-building between individuals and communities are focal points while platforms for performance encourage audiences to engage with the best South Africa has to offer encouraging emerging artists to discover and develop their own artistic skills. Some 6,000 participants benefit from these programmes nationally over the period of a year. The need is evident from the enormous demand by schools. Participants from across a wide economic divide get to literally ‘rub shoulders’ because the projects attract large numbers of participants from the most rural schools to the most wealthy. Opportunities to engage with diverse arts experiences is rare, as are opportunities for artistic performance and assessment. The festivals expose the youth to professional work and hands-on workshop experiences with artists. They also engage with intellectuals in lectures and demonstrations. Professionals are drawn from national experts committed to establishing a creative nurturing ground and a sustainable arts industry. Our Educational objectives are to supplement the often under-funded and under-resourced arts and culture components of school curricula recognised as essential to holistic education, by submerging learners in an intensive arts experience that is absent in schools. Further objectives are to expose learners to a range of genres, arts opportunities and career options while encouraging them to further explore opportunities in the arts.
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