Teachers around the world want to connect their students globally to expand their worldviews and practice critical communication skills. So far, a quarter million students from 150 countries have participated in our global learning community! To celebrate a quarter million PenPals, we want to share some of our favorite stories about the learning and life-changing experiences students have been having through global connections.
Discussing the War in Afghanistan
Moneer from Afghanistan was matched with Brendan from the United States. While they learned together, their countries were at war. When Moneer read in the news that 31 U.S. troops died right outside of his hometown, Kabul, he reached out to his American PenPal to extend his condolences. Through their PenPal exchange, Moneer and Brendan discussed the American-led war in Afghanistan and shared their perspectives on why Americans should and shouldn’t withdraw.
Empowering girls in Kenya and throughout the world
When students at the Mfangano Girls Empowerment Academy in Kenya had the opportunity to learn with PenPals, we received a letter from headmaster Sungu Samnyirwa about how global connections helped his students’ develop a sense of belonging and empowerment.
“Our orphaned girls cannot get access to quality formal education, food, health facilities, guidance and counselling support. PenPal Schools is counted on as a big blessing, in that our orphaned students will have a chance to chat and share different ideas with friends from different parts of the world, something I believe will have a heart felt impact and boost to our efforts of training them to embrace the sense of belonging and acceptance.”-Sungu Samnyirwa from Kenya
Through global connections, learning truly has no boundaries. For students who don’t have equal access to education, like many girls around the world, these learning experiences are profound. When the former first lady Michelle Obama championed the Let Girls Learn initiative, we were proud to support their efforts by connecting girls around the world through our projects. Andrea from Mexico joined one of these projects, and told us afterward that English wasn’t the only thing she learned; “I learned a little bit of English and a lot of hope.”
Discussing politics and America’s changing workforce
One of the reasons why students love connecting with PenPals is because they get to have the kind of conversations they hear adults having, except with their own peers! Students have ideas and opinions of their own, but they don’t often get the opportunity to discuss challenging topics with peers from diverse perspectives. We invited PenPals to have these kind of conversations leading up to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election through the American Perspectives project.
Eileen, a high school student from Iowa, discussed America’s changing workforce with Jenni, a high school student from Maryland. As you can see in their conversation, Eileen and Jenni didn’t just discuss the current state of the American workforce, but they also reflected on their own career goals and how that might be impacted by the Presidential election.
“I think the change in the percentages of jobs has occurred because we have less demand for manufacturing jobs. Since we’re now so dependent on imports from China and other foreign countries, we have less of a mind to make our own products. Why make our own when we can import it from other countries for a fraction of a price?
Jenni responded to Eileen’s thoughtful response and shared her own perspective.
“I think that the change in the type of jobs we do is because we don’t need as many people to manufacture things now since it is cheaper to import products that are manufactured overseas. However the areas of jobs that have to be done in this country, such as government, retail, and leisure, have risen, because there are no cheaper alternatives that people would pay to see. For example, people wouldn’t watch television shows that were made in another country, so it isn’t cheaper to import; entertainment from overseas the way it is to import computers or cell phones. However, I think this a problem because eventually we will run out of the demand for more non-manufacturing jobs, so it is important to encourage things manufactured sustainably and in the U.S. as well.
Sending Computers to Ghana
When Alisa from California enrolled in a PenPal Schools project in 2012, she was matched with Mary from Ghana. As their relationship developed from PenPals to friends, Alisa noticed a way that she could help Mary and her classmates continue to connect with peers around the world.
“I collected old laptops and other computers and sent them to Mary’s school to use in their classrooms. Before we sent the computers, Mary and all of the other students shared one slow computer, and they waited in line to compose their emails. Now, they have many more computers and can access technology much more easily. Seven months later, Mary and I still email regularly. Our emails are more than text in a Word document: they are a hand to help us, a connection that will guide us through life.”-Alisa B from California
Inventing a Holiday
After participating in the Holidays & Festivals of the World project, Bella invented her own holiday, Everybody Matters Day, which was celebrated not just in her school district, but throughout the PenPal Schools global learning community. By turning her global learning into local action, Bella inspired PenPals from countries like Taiwan, Lithuania, Germany, and Russia to celebrate Everybody Matters Day, too!
These are just some of the incredible PenPal stories from the quarter million students that have connected to learn together. You can find more PenPal stories here to learn more about students like this class in Mexico who participated in The World Through My Eyes.
They watched documentaries made by young people in Mozambique, Tibet, India, and Colombia and reflected on topics like tolerance, activism, and education.
“Most people are part of different groups. I believe we are all one group, but our minds just seperate that.”-David B from Mexico
Borislava from Bulgaria participated in the World Explorer project to learn about daily life and culture from countries around the world. Borislava gave her four PenPals a taste of Bulgarian cuisine as a side dish to what they just learned.
“Shopska salad is the salad that defines Bulgaria. Not only is it the most popular Bulgarian salad but is also named after a large group of very frugal people called shopi who live in the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia. Shopska salad is made of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and peppers sprinkled with Bulgarian white cheese. Can you give me a recipe from your side?”-Borislava I from Bulgaria
When we asked her what her favorite part of the PenPal exchange was, she said…
“I have never talked to a foreigner before. I was impatient to find [my PenPals’] places on Google Earth.”-Borislava I from Bulgaria
Global connections also help students naturally develop skills in the classroom aligned with learning objectives.
Read more about how students support claims, summarize content, and learn new vocabulary here.
See more examples of how PenPal discussions teach students to structure arguments, include details, and use correct grammar here.
Social and Emotional Learning
Read more about how PenPal projects teach students respect, collaboration, and ethical responsibility here.
Learn more about how students manage their digital reputation, protect personal information, and search for information online here.
PenPal stories like these demonstrate what happens when a quarter million students around the world connect to learn together. We truly believe that learning is better together, and we can’t wait to welcome more students into our global learning community. We put diverse, outspoken students together and watch the sparks fly. To celebrate, we want to thank all quarter million PenPals and the teachers that support them! We can’t wait to welcome the next quarter million and beyond.
PenPal Schools connects over a quarter million students from 150 countries to learn together through collaborative online projects. Students learn about topics ranging from human rights and environmental sustainability to robotics and literature while practicing 21st century skills. Learn more at with this 2-minute Getting Started video and at penpalschools.com.