Jennifer Walts and her sister Heather Carreiro currently live on separate continents but their distance apart doesn’t stop them from teaming up together! Jenn Walts’ IB English SL1 students are participating in an international letter exchange with Heather Carreiro’s English students in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. While studying Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Ms. Walts’ students were given a glimpse of Vietnam during a small sliver in time. After reading O’Brien’s book, Dakota Linnell, Class of 2014 wrote the following reflection: “In The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien uses fiction and presents it as though it is truth by involving natural human emotions in his writing. Most readers have never been so close to war, so we don’t know what it feels like to be in that situation/ environment. O’Brien paints a vivid picture of what the war is like, from the on-edge, restless boredom, to how it felt when a comrade dies; his details allow our imaginations to feel what it would be like to be a soldier.”
Through literature, students explored how many Americans have skewed views of Vietnam due to our nation’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The class agreed it should be a goal to get to know the culture of current day Vietnam. Students are communicating in an articulate way and asking questions that will elicit responses that reveal aspects of Vietnamese culture.
Students generated potential topics and questions to ask throughout their letters. IB students were asked to reflect on their own physical surroundings and beyond. Carly Wilkinson wrote, “We have a new school building this year! Last year, we were in an old furniture store that didn’t have any windows or light switches. It was pretty interesting, but it didn’t stop us from learning and having a good year.” Other students explained a bit about Cape Cod. Nicole Conklin wrote, “There are many options when it comes to visiting historical places and beaches on Cape Cod.” Connor Mahoney asked, “What is it like for a teenager to live in Ho Chi Minh City?” Scott Glynn was curious about the pop culture in Vietnam and made sure he asked both of his letter recipients.
Sturgis West students were very excited to receive the first batch of letters from Vietnam just before Thanksgiving. They enjoyed sharing the perspectives of their Vietnamese pen pals. Despite the differences between cultures and location, they discovered some interesting similarities of being teenagers pursuing challenging academic programs in schools with an international focus.
Aquila wrote Caroline, “My real name is Khoa, but you can call me Aquila if you like, and guess what, I’m 16 too. I’m a little 16 urban boy who wants to be a man, growing up and all that….The best time of the day for me is when I’m on the bus home at about 6 PM; I can feel some kind of inner peace just by watching the streets through the glass pane. Yeah, and my favorite time is when I’m on the streets at night, when it’s raining and nobody is around. It’s awesome to be in the biggest city of my country. It’s even more awesome to be in this city without dust and noise and people…Your school, cut down half, equals mine. My school has more than 200 students, so people pretty much everybody in school, kinda like a happy cozy family. I’m studying 5 AP subjects and they are Chemistry, Economics, Psychology, World History and Calculus/Math. My favorite is, surprisingly, all of them. I love to study and know new stuff in any aspect of life – guess that’s what defines a nerd huh?”
Ms. Walts plans to have a class discussion to wrap-up the activity after a few letters have been exchanged. Students will discuss the significance of cross-cultural communication and furthering their knowledge about unfamiliar cultures.