By Cindy Zomar, Education Coordinator
MARLBOROUGH – Perhaps becoming more at ease with Zoom classes throughout the pandemic made a recent cultural exchange over 6,500 miles a little more comfortable for a group of students from the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School (AMSA).
Mark Vital, AMSA’s Community Outreach Director, was familiar with GPI Boston, a group that facilitates connections with schools in Japan, and had begun the groundwork for a cultural exchange back in 2019. Then the pandemic came.
Finally, however, a partnership has been formed between AMSA and Fukuoka Chuo, a high school in the south of Japan.
Vital gives credit to his Leaders of Tomorrow service club for making this link possible.
“Poorvi Mohanakrishnan, our club’s active president, has done an amazing job establishing a program curriculum, schedule and providing feedback,” he said.
Western influence is evident
Thirty students in each country connected on two Sunday evenings, allowing for the thirteen- hour time difference.
The first session was primarily intended to be a way to break the ice and let the students learn a bit about each other and the unique cultural differences.
AMSA students had each prepared slides with pictures of their pets, local food, or even their car if they had one.
“I definitely underestimated the effects of Western influence on other cultures,” said Sugita Mahendarkar, one of the AMSA sophomore students. “They have Halloween, watch foreign films, and dislike their school uniforms, just like us!”
Students work through communication barriers
The AMSA students formed a committee and had worksheets and slides prepared, but it still wasn’t seamless.
There were some internet issues, and, of course, a language barrier to overcome.
“We had to be thinking on our feet the whole time,” Mahendarkar said. “Even though they were semi-fluent in English, we still used the chat function to communicate.”
“The world has been devoid of interaction, so everyone really wanted to make this work, and I learned so much more than I could ever get on blogs or YouTube,” she continued. “I was so amazed to see how hard these students work, and that they are fluent in several languages.”
Two Truths and a Lie breaks the ice
To lend a little levity, the groups played Two Truths and a Lie in their smaller breakout sessions, which Mahendarkar found to be a more casual introduction to one another.
Mahendarkar made such a strong connection with one student, Maya, that they have become friends and communicate quite frequently, sharing the commonalities and differences in their lifestyles.
For example, she learned that Maya lives in the city and is fine with traveling alone by train each day to school.
“We talk about music, fashion, or studying for finals,” Mahendarkar said. “Everyone at AMSA is looking for careers in math or science, but Maya is thinking about film school, and directing movies.”
The students are hoping that, at some point, this connection will lead to finally meeting in person.