25 Jan Florida – ePal project
Being in contact with our partner school, Dr Phillips High School in Orlando, Florida, for many years, visiting them on a regular basis throughout the last years and welcoming them in Villach from time to time, has initiated a fantastic program for our and Floridian students alike. For reasons well known, going to Florida with a group of students is currently simply impossible. Luckily, the idea was born to start an online exchange project with students in Orlando. Students from 5B and 7C were asked if they wanted to participate and many of them signed up immediately.
The advantages for students are obvious. The Austrian students not only improve their language skills by communicating with an American e-pen pal, but also learn about the American way of life – the differences regarding the school system, traditions, to name a few. In addition, students’ academic career can benefit vastly, e.g. when preparing for presentations together with their American colleagues.
Below you can find reports from three students about their experiences with this new online project and insights from one American student. Thanks to all American students and teachers for their willingness to organize and try out this new exchange, which will hopefully continue in future years and lead to ‘real life’ visits to our friends at Dr Phillips High School soon. The pictures show Dr Phillips High School and Anna and her pen pal, Jackson, in their first video chat.
Thanks to the pen pal project we have been able to get in contact with students from Dr. Phillips High school in Florida, USA. Via email we could experience a great cultural exchange as well as improve our language skills in English. In this project, students from partner schools have the opportunity to communicate and get to know each other. This has been a great experience for both of us, since we learned a lot about the life of high school students in the US, their school system and extra-curricular activities, sports and cultural differences. Over a time period of six months our emails have become more personal and very long.
Due to this email communication, we have both gained a friend, whom we enjoy talking to and we both hope this connection continues to grow.
(Edna Habibovic and Cathrin Tschuden, 5B)
A few months ago I first received an email from Jackson. We both volunteered to become pen pals and his teacher chose me to be his partner. At first, I did not know what to do, I was overwhelmed with the whole situation. I had never spoken to a native English speaker, I feared that he would judge me based on my vocabulary or grammar.
Due to those fears, the first couple of emails were friendly but rather formal. We got to know each other, talked about ourselves, school, habits and friends. It turned out we have a lot in common. It was fun to connect even though, or especially because we didn’t know what the other one looked like.
After the “getting-to-know-phase” we started texting on a daily basis – just like “normal” friends. We now snap pictures of the current weather, ourselves or our pets, tell each other stories of our lives and even ask for advice or help when it comes to school related problems.
I am glad that I signed up for this experience. Not only did I gain information about the American way of life but also a friend. Uncertain whether we will keep in touch or ever see each other in person, I am keen to see what the future may hold.
(Anna Ziak, 7C)
Hello. My name is Jackson Hoffman, from Orlando, Florida. I write today to reflect on my past few months of experience communicating with a pen pal. When I first asked my English teacher for the opportunity, I was swiftly given the name of a person named Anna to correspond with. I knew nothing about her or even whether she would be that interested in what I had to say. Regardless, I sent an introduction email that same week. I had never done anything like this before, and I think we both were unsure what to say or talk about. I talked about myself, my family, my life, and more. Then, I got a response. By this point, I still didn’t truly know if I would see this as a burden or an opportunity, but I quickly realized that this really was something quite cool.
We wrote back and forth for the next few weeks seemingly every other day. Eager to discuss anything and everything, I learned quite a lot about Austria and I hope Anna learned the same amount about my corner of America. While discussing everything from politics to free time was nice, it was definitely quite formal. In order to talk more casually without sending entire essays any time there was something happening, we added each other on snapchat, where I usually text every couple of days. We have kept the emails going and intend to do so, but now I only send an email once every week or two, which makes it much more manageable. Using snapchat has definitely made it easier to do things like sending pictures of the weather, things I’m interested in, or in some cases even my dog.
Now for the handful of things I have learned. First off, I can’t seem to get over the stark difference in climate! Of course, there are lots of other things we’ve talked about. For instance, back in December, we discussed the wildly different Christmas traditions in the two countries. However, as much as things are different, a lot of our lives are also quite similar. I found that we have roughly similar experiences in school, use technology in about the same way, and stay informed on global issues. And of course, we’ve both been affected similarly by the pandemic, even if my state hasn’t done nearly as much as Austria. That reminds me, I was quite careful to talk politics at first, but luckily we both managed to mostly agree on that as well. I’ve learned all this while writing in English, something that is quite fortunate because I really would have struggled had I been the one having to write in a second language. On the other hand, I’ve never actually studied German, so maybe that’s not a fair comparison. Anyways, it has been a great experience so far to have a pen pal and I’m sure it will continue for a while to come.
(Jackson Hoffman, Dr Phillips High School)