Minnesota elementary school students learn about life in Albania

By Jill Pearson
Nov. 16, 2017

What kind of animals do they have in Albania? Do kids ride bikes? How do they build their homes? Do they play hockey? 

Minnesota students participate in a pen pal exchange with a Peace Corps Volunteer in Albania.
Minnesota students participate in a pen pal exchange with a Peace Corps Volunteer in Albania.

These were just some of the many questions I fielded from Mrs. Kimberly Scheuring’s inquisitive fourth graders in one of our early Skype sessions. Corresponding with this curious class back in my home state of Minnesota was initially just a way to stay connected to my niece, one of Mrs. Scheuring’s students. But it quickly became much more than that as the kids’ enthusiasm fueled my desire to share my experience of living overseas, integrating into a community and adapting to a culture different from my own.

Throughout the school year, we engaged with each other through my occasional letters (sent to all via their classroom iPads) and through monthly Skype sessions featuring topics such as community, culture, traditions, celebrations, food and communication. Mrs. Scheuring did a fabulous job bridging the gap between my remote participation and the content I wished to share and her diverse group of students, helping to manage their levels of energy, interest and understanding.

As an additional component, we were able to incorporate a pen pal exchange with English students in Albania’s capital city of Tirana. Through a partnership with another dedicated teacher, Ms. Anisa Fejzo, we were able to connect the kids in multiple exchanges throughout the year. They shared letters, artwork, photos and videos – all means of bringing their worlds just a little closer together.

Minnesota students participating in World Wise Schools receive their letters from Albania.
Students read their letters from Albania.

During the December holidays when I traveled home to see my family, I had fun visiting the class in person. It was a great opportunity to deliver new pen pal letters and also engage the students in more hands-on learning. We studied the Albanian flag, hung it up in their classroom and practiced linking our thumbs together to mimic its double-headed eagle, just like the kids do in Albania. The class got a closer look at the local currency – the Lek – and even received a 1 Lek coin to take home with them. At the end of our visit we played traditional Albanian music, watched a video of their popular circle dance and then tried to master it ourselves!  

The lessons and conversations made possible through the Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools program allowed me to reflect on what was unique about my adopted home and share what I love most about its people and its culture. I think it added a unique component to the students’ learning about the world and I hope it helped open their young minds to the variety of people and perspectives that exist beyond their own community. 

And if it inspires any of them to become a future Peace Corps Volunteer, that would be a wonderful bonus! 

Jill Pearson

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