Our school was culturally and geographically isolated. However, the cultural isolation is diminishing over the last few years, as many of the large local farms that are owned by corporations employ people from overseas. These different cultures come into Australia via a variety of visas.
The result is that we have a number of students of Philippine, Sri Lankan, African and Thai origins. Some have been Australia for a very short time so that very little English may be spoken. Our Education Department have a language school in Melbourne to help students, such as these, with their understanding and effective speaking of English. As we are 3.5 hours from Melbourne, technology has enabled students to learn English via videoconferencing with the Language School.
However, the tables were turned on a recent Mystery Skype session with a school in Thailand. Questions were asked of each other, that required only a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. The students in Thailand worked out we were from Australia well before we worked out their country. The teacher, Thitaree Chanthawat, stated that her students were shy as English is not their first language. My students are also shy and English is their first language.
As there was time left, we started to show each other cultural objects – our country flags, money, the time (on our mobile phones) and my students showed some sheep’s wool. One of their students showed a toy buffalo to the webcamera. In amongst the sharing, I asked Rapeeporn (or Cheer as we call her) to come forward and share her native Thai language with the Thai class. It was wonderful to see her immediately become confident, her obvious delight in being able to converse in her native tongue and to hear another language spoken fluently. However, before introducing herself, Rapeeporn, pressed her palms together and bowed to the Thai class. We later learned that this is wai.
If either class did not quite understand the other, then Rapeeporn interpreted. There was discussion about the use of buffalo on their farms. There were similarities – both schools were set in rural settings and small towns. However, there were 40-50 students in their class compared to our class of 22. There were no walls or oceans between us. It was if we were in the same classroom sharing conversations.
When my students were asked to reflect on the class, they stated that one of the highlights was hearing the Thai language being spoken.
Some teachers ask me how I make the global connections. The teacher from Thailand found me on Skype in the Classroom and requested a Mystery Skype connection with me and my class.