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Student experiences the world through pen pals

By Gracie Warden
East Rowan High School sophomore

If you would have asked me the very first week of school if I would have pen pals from Turkey, Ukraine and the Netherlands, I would have answered, “No way, but how can I get one?”

I would have never imagined that I would be so connected to people and places on the other side of the world as I am right now. In the 10th grade at East Rowan High School we focus on world literature. Taking this class has helped us expand our views on the world and different cultures.

Wendy Fontenot, my honors English teacher, started collaborating with teachers from other countries near the beginning of the year, but she didn’t tell us what she had planned until later. The first country we collaborated with was Ukraine. We were first connected digitally through a discussion board. We were paired with a Ukrainian student, and we could send messages back and forth.

Our second country was Turkey. For this country we used “snail mail” which is hand-written letters sent through the postal service to our pen pals. We recently had the ability to Skype with students from both of these countries. To add an even more exciting factor, the Turkish teacher asked for us to surprise my pen pal by wishing her a happy birthday during our Skype, and she loved the surprise.

It was very interesting getting to meet my pen pal and seeing how excited the Ukrainian students were when we greeted them in their language — Fontenot had us practice greetings in Ukrainian and Turkish — and this really made our pen pals happy!

I never knew I would get the opportunity to sing “Jingle Bells” with people my age who live in the Ukraine. That was a wonderful experience.

For extra credit, we were given the chance to choose to have a Netherlands pen pal. These pen pals connected with us through email. It has been very interesting researching and learning about different cultures and how they do things. The biggest setback in the whole experience was the time difference and translating some things to English. Students in the Ukraine stayed after school, and we came to school early one morning in order to make the Skype happen.

I believe this was a great, eye-opening experience that allowed us to become more connected throughout the world. Now, that’s what I call taking world literature to the next level.

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