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Former local teacher connects students across cultures

Pen pal
The Year 6 students from Klother School with letters from their pen pals at St Mary's.

Former local teacher Liz O’Sullivan has linked students in Thailand to St Mary's Catholic Primary School in Bundaberg through a pen pal project.

Liz taught at St Mary's before she moved to Northern Thailand to take on an English teacher role at Klother School as part of a partnership program negotiated by Palms Australia.

She said when COVID-19 hit, she began thinking of ways her students could learn to communicate to others throughout the world.

“During COVID times across the globe people have been increasing relying on communicating and learning using online platforms,” she said.

“However, some people don’t have reliable access to digital technologies.

“At Klothor School the students from Year 6 don’t have computers and have very limited access to the internet.”

Liz said she decided to start an “old fashioned” pen pal project, pairing up with the Year 6 students from St Mary’s school in Bundaberg.

“The students from Klothor spent ages painstakingly creating beautiful handwritten letters to send to Australia,” she said.

“They were excited and eager to get a response.”

Liz said once the letters were sent it was an anxious wait for the students, with postal service slow due to COVID and lengthy school closures in Thailand.

“Months later, when the students were able to return to school, they received a happy surprise – a parcel including letters from their pen pals in Australia,” she said.

Klothor School class teacher Jin said the students were excited and happy to have received a response from their foreign friends.

“They had huge smiles on their faces and shouted with joy when we opened the parcel,” Jin said.

“The students in Grade 6 learned about writing letters and how to tell a story about themselves.

“The learned how to exchange and learn cultures with native speakers.”

St Mary’s Catholic Primary School teacher Toni Gahan said the pen pal program had opened up a relationship between students from two very different cultures.

“The students from Thailand learn English at school but, for most of them, it is their third language,” Toni said.

“They did very well to write in English about their family, pets and hobbies.

“They also drew beautiful artwork to decorate their messages.”

Toni said the Bundaberg students were so excited to receive the letters and immediately started writing in return.

“They enjoyed sharing details about their own friends, families and interests,” she said.

“The letters were posted to Thailand, along with some books, puzzles, Christmas activities and treats which would help to teach the Thai students about the Australian culture.

“Many students wrote that they hoped to stay in touch with their new pen-friends into the future.”

Palms Australia is a not for profit organisation.

To find out more about Palms’ programs and placements visit palms.org.au.

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