When I was a wee little tot my father gave me a subscription to a magazine called Look and Learn, a British children's publication featuring history and fiction. The best part of the magazine, as far as I was concerned, was the pen pals section. Kids from around the world would write in seeking somebody with whom they could correspond.
These days, in the world of the Internet, the very notion of a pen pal seems quaint and retro (and not in the stylish sense). So, imagine the guffaws I received when I told my students enrolled in my SFS Proseminar, Peoples and Politics of Australia that they would be getting pen pals. Working with Professor Brendon O'Connor at the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney students from Georgetown were paired with Sydney students. (Brendon had been a visiting Australian Fulbright Scholar associated with CANZ.)
Their mission, loosely defined, was to use one another as a resource. The Aussie students wanted interaction with students in the US, and the US students wanted the Aussie interaction. Feedback has been generally pretty positive, and I'm hopeful students will continue these relationships for years to come. Then again, I'm hopeful of a lot of things that don't pan out, but hope does spring eternal.
A wonderful bright spot occurred when one of my Prosem students announced that he'd invited his Sydney pen pal to class! The Sydney Uni student was in the US looking into graduate programs, Georgetown being one. You can imagine how excited we were to have a Sydney Uni student arrived at our seminar.
Imagine our surprise when she began to talk with a strong American accent. She explained that she was born in New York to American parents, raised in Cambodia where her Dad was setting up a hospital. She had migrated to Australia and had dual citizenship. Yes, of course, she was Australian, but she didn't fit the stereotype. And isn't that the point of such interactions? Australians, like Americans, vary from what one may come to expect. The fun is finding out their story and learning about them.
I guess the idea of a pen pal may not be so quaint after all.