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Chesley: Pen pal power opens new worlds to students

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Updated: October 14, 2012 1:09PM



At age 10, I received my first pen pal, Joy, who was from England. I was assigned to write to her for a fourth-grade class project.

Not only did this childhood project spark my interest in the world abroad, but every letter brought a little of the unknown world to me.

Thirteen years later, I am still in touch with Joy, although I must admit somewhat reluctantly that it is through Facebook messages rather than beautiful handwritten letters.

Remembering the interest fueled within me through my pen pal experience, I knew I wanted to give my Malay students the same opportunity. Moreover, I desired to bring it closer to home, by connecting them to students at Lincoln-Way West High School, where my sister is a senior and which is in the high school district I attended.

Since February, David Gallagher’s freshman Western civilization class at Lincoln-Way West has partnered with my 2A class at SMK Permaisuri Nur Zahirah in Besut.

Initially, drafting and writing the first English letters to send to America was a daunting task that required hard work and patience from not only myself, but my 15-year-old students as well.

However, the enthusiastic reactions from my students when they received their first letters back from their new American friends were incredible. It was as though they had just received the secret key to a whole new place.

The energetic students at West High wrote about their hobbies and families as well as places in New Lenox, such as the well-known Ranch Frosties and the popular New Lenox Commons.

“What is Ranch Frosties?” asked a student of mine after reading her letter, which definitely put a smile on my face.

I first worked with the students to help them understand their letters from America and then to draft responses.

All in all, with each new letter received and sent, I have not only witnessed a drastic peak in my students’ interest in English but a newfound motivation for learning more about the world outside of the one they currently know.

Mutually, the students in Malaysia and America have enjoyed the experience. As my students bring Malaysia to Lincoln-Way West students, the West Warriors bring America back to them.

Sincere gratitude goes out to Mr. David Gallagher and his students as well as the Warrior community. Thank you for supporting a fellow Lincoln-Way graduate’s Fulbright initiative and for making this cultural exchange project a reality!

Rachael Chesley is a Fulbright Scholar in Malaysia through the U.S. State Department’s Fulbright ETA Scholarship Program. Rachael grew up in New Lenox and is a 2007 Lincoln-Way Central High School graduate and a 2011 graduate of Saint Mary’s College of Notre Dame.



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