This story was originally published in the Spring 2012 issue of Harker Quarterly
Dozens of Harker middle school students participated in an email pen pal exchange with the Nazarbayev Intellectual School in Astana, Kazakhstan, with whom they recently shared a video conference.
The exchange was initiated by Lauren Gutstein ’06, currently teaching English at the Kazakh school. “Lauren was home for a visit, came to meet with our students and gave them cards that her kids made,” said Jennifer Walrod, director of global education. “Our kids, in turn, sent back many cards with her for their buddies. Email exchanges followed.
“We use ePals (a secure emailing site), and I have found that some kids are emailing each other [at least once a week],” Walrod said.
Students noted they don’t really know a lot about this region and commented that Kazakh kids look very similar to Harker kids. As Kazakhstan is sandwiched between Asia, the Middle East, Russia and Europe, Kazakh kids have a variety of ethnic makeups.
Gutstein also noted parallels between the two schools. “These schools are for high-achieving students and they are somewhat experimental,” she said. Nazarbayev is working with many international groups, the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins University, University College London and others, to bring new ideas to what is still a very Soviet system of education.
“Math and science competitions and olympiads are a big deal,” said Gutstein, “and most students have extra classes after school and on Saturdays. National dance and music (like the dombra, a national instrument) are also common extracurriculars. My fellow foreign teachers and I are trying to add to this with activities like creative writing, choir, book club and various drama clubs.”
Walrod hopes the exchange will continue in subsequent years, and was pleased with an inaugural video conference in early February, when the students were able to interact face to face for the first time. It was initiated by the Kazakh students as part of their English Week activities. The students participated in a question and answer session, as well as a fun show-and-tell about current trends, fashions, games and talents, and the conference concluded with an exchange of Russian and Kazakh idioms and slang.