Twice a month, senior Shivani Mudhelli opens up her computer to greet a friend, Andrea Lizzeth Mayer García, who lives 1,200 miles away. Mudhelli speaks in Spanish while García responds in English as they exchange formalities, discuss their lives, and attempt to converse in a non-native language.
Spanish teacher Theresa Jensen first piloted this interaction assignment to her IB Spanish class three years ago. She thought of the idea when she met an English teacher at el Tecnologico de Monterrey, a high school in Monterrey, Mexico, on the IB website.
“It was a perfect situation because her students could practice their English, and my students could practice their Spanish,” Jensen said.
The students are assigned partners randomly by the teachers and are instructed to have a 15 minute conversation with them about some assigned topics over a zoom call. Often, the calls steer away from the assigned topics, as the students begin to discuss their real lives.
“At first, they are terrified it will be awkward having a face to face 15 minute conversation with a stranger who speaks another language,” Jensen said. “But then they realize they both watch Stranger Things on Netflix or listen to Taylor Swift or Rihanna.”
In light of recent events, Jensen’s students were assigned to ask their partner about the global pandemic and how COVID-19 has impacted their partners. During an Apr. 10 Zoom call, the entire class was to discuss their findings.
“My partner told me that quarantine regulations in Mexico are a lot stricter. Right now, life there is different because they are not able to leave their homes and cannot go to public places like restaurants and parks. They’re in full lockdown,” Mudhelli said. “It made me realize how global this issue really is and that I have a responsibility to stay home.”
Other students asked their partners what they did to pass the time in quarantine and found that they had similar feelings about being stuck at home.
“My partner didn’t like that school was all done from home and that she didn’t get to see her friends,” senior Danielle Glasglow said. “I asked her what she spent her time doing in quarantine, and we found that we’ve been watching the same shows on Netflix.”
Like Mudhelli, many of the Spanish students realized that this pandemic was bigger than our city. Their short conversation gave them more insight into life during a pandemic in other places.
“In the U.S., we tend to be less aware of what is happening in the rest of the world than are people of similar education in other countries. This pandemic has really turned our attention,” Jensen said. “This experience allows MN students to get the perspective of another student just like them but in another culture. After a few conversations, suddenly they have made a real connection. That is what an international education is all about.”