One thing many of us are looking forward to post-Covid is international travel. But what exactly is it about travelling that fascinates us? What do we gain from the experience? I believe it is getting a deeper insight into other cultures. In this blog post, we’ll explore what one Secondary Plus class in Singapore learnt by connecting with other British Council students, thousands of miles away in Poland.
Our Secondary Plus students had the chance to enjoy deeper insights into other cultures as part of their Secondary Plus course. Along with the usual historical facts such as ‘how long did the Warsaw uprising last’ (63 days), our students delved further and found out about CCAs in other countries - even the speciality McDonalds burgers available in Poland (The VillageMac – but did you know they had sharing fries too?). My class had a link up with Poland and they’ve already requested that we travel to Poland to meet up with our partner class!
What we did
It was Friday at 7.30 p.m. after a long week at school but there was an extra buzz of excitement in the air. “What do you think they look like?” Donovan whispered. He knew that today was the day they got to meet their match-up class from Poland. We brainstormed what we already knew about Poland and quickly realised there was a lot to learn! We watched a video made by the British Council students in Poland mesmerised as we learnt about the country.
Students were then excited to make video responses to our new friends. Whilst sharing information about ourselves we discovered more about our classmates. I didn’t know I had a tae-kwon-do black belt in my class until now. (mental note: be extra careful when giving critical feedback to this student!). We shared facts about Singapore and its culture and fitted all of this into a short video. The next week we designed a weekend holiday in Singapore for our Polish friends based on their hobbies and interests before presenting this holiday itinerary on video. Finally, we received a few recommendations for tours in Poland and selected our favourite. Of course, as with any project of this scale we ended with some reflection and feedback.
What we learnt
The most obvious thing students learnt was global knowledge. Students also learnt about intercultural communication as they made connections between their countries. For instance, as our counterparts described the Polish dish Golabki (boiled cabbage with minced pork) “sounds a bit like dumplings!” one boy exclaimed. Students were able to make connections between different cultures.
Covid-19 has demonstrated once again the importance of being able to collaborate successfully across cultures. Before we embarked on this project, we had a discussion about appropriate topics and potentially sensitive topics. Students became more aware of the need for standard international English when communicating and realised that they needed to slow their speech in order to communicate successfully.
One student, commented:
'I liked the fact that we got to communicate with people around the world and get to know about the beauty of life in Poland. This helped me appreciate more about my life in Singapore and be happy to live in a multicultural society.'
This all sounds valuable, but how does it help the students for their school exams? Let’s take a look
As part of the project, students needed to think about their audience. This was especially true when designing the weekend tour of Singapore. Would a group of students who complained about the hot weather in the summer in Europe be interested in spending time outdoors in Singapore? Would students who seemed adventurous like to try food that is very different from their own culture? These were questions that students discussed to make sure they have a good understanding of the purpose, audience and context of the recording. These are the very skills required to succeed for the Situational Writing component of the English exam.
Students spent some time preparing for making their presentations. First, they needed to work together to carry out research, and pick out the main ideas and supporting information showing their reading comprehension skills. They then needed to negotiate and select the most relevant information before working on their language in the recorded presentation practising their summary skills and producing a short presentation very similar to the planned response requirement in the O-level from 2023.
After the national exams in 2021, the importance of understanding various accents was highlighted. This experience exposed our students to various accents around the world. Not only were they exposed to the accents of students in our partner countries, but also to the teachers in the British Council network. This helps our students become more flexible listeners who are truly global citizens.
Feedback from Students
The students who took part in the project found it a valuable experience. Nearly all (95%) of the students enjoyed the project and 75% felt the project improved their language skills and confidence in using English.
‘It was very interesting and fun. it was an educational and yet engaging activity which is different from the usual classroom setting classes’
Our students’ favourite thing was learning about people from other cultures.
‘During Covid, we have all been cooped up in our countries, unable to go out to explore. However, through CC, I managed to gain insight on how Poland is like beyond typical tourist sites. Through the experience, it was as if I had travelled to Poland during the break.’ - Sec 3 Student
It was nice to see some students change their mindset through this project and realise that while exam scores are important, there is life beyond the exam.
‘I used to think that it is not useful to me. It is not part of learning English as it will not be tested in exams. Now I think it’s quite fun even though is not going to be tested in exams. From this activity we can learn how to communicate with each other well and learn more things about their country.’ - Sec 2 Student
And perhaps most satisfying of all, was knowing that this project increased understanding between cultures and opened up students’ minds to communicating with people who may be different from them in some way whether it be gender, age, nationality, race or religion.
‘I used to think speaking to people from other cultures was uncomfortable before because we are not from the same culture so maybe we don’t have any similarities. Now, I think we can all communicate as there are many common topics and it can be easy.’ - Sec 1 Student
I’m going to pass this over to one of our Secondary 3 students to end with a quote which is short but extremely insightful.
‘Even if we come from different cultures, we are all similar in one way or another.’