Sophomores chat with Colombian pen pals

World Lit project encourages cultural awareness

Charlotte Reynolds, Staff Reporter

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A former EHS English teacher, Merri Jankiewicz, is staying connected to the Eaton community from 3,102 miles away by teaming up her Colombian students with EHS sophomores. The students at EHS are participating in a pen pal assignment with Jankiewicz’s students who attend Colegio Bolivar in Cali, Colombia. Prior to moving to Colombia, Jankiewicz taught ninth-grade English, Yearbook, and Creative Writing for 9 years. She said the pen pal assignment pairs nicely with a unit they are completing on Holocaust literature. “One of the ideas I emphasize during this unit is treating people with respect, compassion, and understanding instead of quickly categorizing them as ‘other’ or basing our judgments on stereotypes,” Jankiewicz said.  Her Colombian students hear a great deal about the United States on the news, in movies, and on social media; however, those representations do not teach them about complex subcultures and unique stories of individuals. Similarly, people in the United States have preconceived notions about Colombia. “We’ve asked students to consider worldly perspectives for their entire sophomore career, and there’s no better real world application for that then having to consult with people who don’t necessarily live like you do or agree with what you believe.” said Eaton English teacher, Emily Sorenson. EHS sophomore, Nakaiya Kuskie (21) says, “You never truly know what someone’s life is like somewhere else until you have an inside connection like this.” A popular Netflix show “Narcos” depicts Colombia in a way that Americans commonly associate drugs with. Participating in this assignment allows students to get to know other cultures on a more personal level and become ambassadors for their own country. Jankiewicz said, “The students in Colombia are extremely enthusiastic to get to know the EHS kids. For students in Eaton, I feel this gives them the opportunity to realize how much they have in common with students their age who are half a world away,” Jankiewicz said. Kuskie says, “The fun about having a pen pal is probably just the excitement of it all. The idea of just talking and meeting someone from a different culture is very exciting.” This opportunity to connect with teenagers on a different continent opens doors for EHS students as they gain a broader understanding in World Literature. Gabe Gerkin (21) said the pen pal assignment, “is nice because you can express your values to one another and learn to respect different values and traditions.” Many people in the world spell Colombia with a “u” (Columbia) instead of with an “o”. According to Jankiewicz, her students get very indignant about that fact. The focal point of this project is appreciating everyone’s differences. Jankiewicz said, “When we get to know other people, we tend to find we have much more in common with them than we originally realized.” Abbey Hayes (21) says, “Introducing ideas that are completely new to someone is a great opportunity. You get to share things they have never experienced.” This project is continuing to benefit students here at Eaton High School and Colegio Bolivar.