Crossing Oceans

After settling a few internet-connectivity issues and a classroom of rowdy second graders, we were ready to connect my laptop to the smart board so the whole class could see another herd of expectant, smiling faces. Through an organization called She’s The First, our second graders were about to speak to a second grade classroom in North Carolina. Many of the American students had never left the small town of Asheville and the majority of the Shanti Bhavan students had never left their homes cities and villages.

Getting the skype session set up took longer than we anticipated and the day’s power outage had not yet been fixed. It was getting dark and we had maybe 20 more minutes of twilight until our classroom would be completely dark. Watching the American second graders on the screen, seeing the familiar sights of the backpack-cubbies in the background and brightly decorated walls, I was a little nervous about the stereotypical image—a classroom in the United States talking to a classroom in India and the Indian school has no power. Would they think that, even though we have technology capable of communicating across oceans, we always have class using lantern-light? Thankfully, about 15 minutes into our conversation, the lights came back on.

The first thing we did was have the students introduce themselves. Each group of students mispronounced the others’ names with equal enthusiasm as they greeted each other. It didn’t matter what anyone’s names were—they were talking to each other and hanging onto every single word that was said.

We kicked it off by having Ms. Wertheim read The Hungry Caterpillar while her students acted it out in the background. The SB students then took turns reading a fable from their class textbook. I don’t know how well Ms. Wertheim’s classroom could hear the words over the background noise from the hallway, our second grader’s tiny voices, or the quality of the connection, but they seemed entranced.

Afterwards we selected kids to ask and answer questions that are essential parts of second grade conversation. What subjects do you like in school? What is your favorite food? What is your favorite color? What sports do you like? Animals? Movies? Books? All are questions that seem so commonplace and trivial that adults often dismiss them as superficial.

But to the kids, they were groundbreaking. How else would they know that kids in India love chocolate chip pancakes and that kids in America also love swimming? Turns out—Barbie, Harry Potter, Legos and Star Wars are universal. Every question that yielded a familiar result was met with ecstatic screeches, wondrous ‘whoa’s’ and exclamations of ‘They like soccer? We LOVE soccer! They like tigers? We LOVE tigers!”

Unfortunately our conversation was cut short because the elementary school in North Carolina decided to have a surprise fire drill. After explaining to the kids that the alarm is used to alert the school of a fire, but assuring them that there was no actual fire, we made a goodbye video to their new American friends.




The second graders told me at breakfast the next morning that the skype was so fun and that they learned a lot about kids in America. The 7th graders (whose classroom we stole for the smart board) said that they also wanted to skype with a 7th grade classroom in the U.S.

Hopefully many more cross-cultural conversations happen soon. Racial and national prejudices still exist—no matter how ‘globalized’, ‘progressive’, or ‘developed’ a community. Any conversation–no matter how small, no matter at what age–makes a difference in breaking those barriers down. I’m glad Shanti Bhavan second graders got to be a part of it.


To see some pictures from the American end, check out Ms. Wertheim’s blog post about it!

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