Turkish Pen Pal Experience

by Grace Beedles

For the past month or so, the freshmen class has been corresponding with Turkish pen pals. The ninth grade English teachers, Mr. Ciuni, Mr. Hatcher, and Ms. Thayer, partnered with global scholars teacher, Mr. Vogel, to establish a writing exchange with ninth graders in Turkey. Our pen pals attend the prestigious co-educational private school, Robert College, in Istanbul. Each Hathaway Brown student received two partners, one student from Robert College and a Hathaway Brown classmate, since there are more HB students than Robert College students. The purpose of this exchange was for the Robert College freshmen to improve their English skills and learn about the American culture from a teenager’s perspective. In addition, the exchange gave Hathaway Brown girl the opportunity to learn more about Turkish culture.

The experience with the pen pals was very interesting. This journey began when each school submitted videos of the English classes introducing themselves, so everyone had a visual of their pen pal. Next, freshmen got to know their pen pals through email, and sometimes through social media platforms. Though I only emailed my pen pal, my friend Audrey told me about the Snapchat streak she developed with her pen pal. The exchange was going really well, as everyone was getting along with their pen pals and the process yielded connections between teenagers in two very different parts of the world.

Since the English department set up the exchange, I knew there would be an educational component to it. Students swapped personal narratives and answered questions about other people in their group narratives. Our English teachers thought we could share the narratives on our very own Haiku portal, and although this idea worked out well in the beginning, things soon went down hill. My English teacher was notified each day about a new issue. Uploading the narratives to the Haiku portal was a challenge, since the directions were extremely vague. Only some people could publish the narratives onto the portal and everyone else just kept them on Google docs. In addition, there were technical problems with the Haiku portal itself. One day, I logged in to the portal and there was a sign claiming that the portal wasn’t available today. The Robert college students started to just send us their essays via google docs, avoiding Haiku altogether.

Another problem was that the Robert College freshmen were starting to become upset about how people were critiquing the essays. They felt we were being too nitpicky by focusing heavily on grammatical errors, and also thought some students gave too much information while others too little. I don’t think this issue was necessarily our fault because we were supposed to give our opinion on what they can improve, yet we had to remember English was their 2nd language.

While this journey didn’t appear to end on a high note, I still benefited from the cultural exchange. I was able to learn what it was like for teenager growing up in Turkey and I had the chance to establish common ground in essays. This exchange has opened my eyes to the fact that being from different places doesn’t mean you aren’t alike.