When leaders at The Y.A.L.E. School’s Northfield campus initiated a pen pal project with students in Sri Lanka, it was intended to improve writing skills and promote cultural exchange. It has done that, and much, much more.
Correspondence between the students began in December and immediately sparked a great interest in a country over 8,000 miles away. Student pen pals range in age from 15 to 24 and are attending Sarvodaya Trincomalee Vocational Training Center. Sarvodaya is Sri Lanka’s largest non-government organization (NGO); it maintains 34 district centers and reaches nearly 15,000 villages.
“Our students were amazed to learn that the community of Trincomalee was cut off from the rest of the world for three decades due to ethnic conflict,” said Al Doyle, campus principal. “It was hard for our students to grasp the level of poverty their pen pals experience. They were surprised to learn that their pen pals do not have cell phones, iPads or computers in their classrooms.”
In spite of the language differences—the native language in Sri Lanka is Tamil—students have new friendships.
While they learned about differences, they have also found that they have many of the same interests, hobbies and ambitions. A social gap was bridged when one of the Sri Lankan pen pals asked a Northfield student if he had heard the worldwide hit song Gangnam Style, by South Korean musician PSY. The student responded by explaining that it was a very popular song here as well and asked his pen pal if he knew the dance that was in the music video. “Our students were thrilled when a week later they received a YouTube video of their pen pals doing the Gangnam Style dance,” said Doyle.
The letter exchange will continue for the rest of the school year. In June students at Y.A.L.E. will participate in a Sri Lankan festival.