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Volunteer AbroadVolunteer Overseas

Mature Mexico volunteers set up pen-pal link with Scottish schools

Hector and Violet helping with emails

Schools separated by over 5000 miles have been brought together by two Projects Abroad volunteers in a pen-pal story that has captured the imaginations and even the hearts of the students involved.

Students from Secundaria 45 in Mexico and Selkirk High School in Scotland began emailing each other back in January as part of their respective English and Spanish lessons. Since then, two other Scottish schools - Kelso and Earlston High - have also got involved in the project.

This idea was the brainchild of Hector and Violet Christie, a retired couple from Selkirk in Scotland. They went out to Mexico with Projects Abroad for a three month teaching placement at the start of the year, living and working in a district of Guadalajara called Zapopan. Seeing the benefit that the students were gaining from having native English-speakers taking their lessons, the Christies discussed the idea of putting the students in touch with people of their own age from their local school back in Selkirk. Although school from the UK generally concentrate more on teaching French and German, Selkirk High did have 5 students who were studying GCSE Spanish, and within days emails began to wing their way across the Atlantic.

Interactive lessons

Students were initially asked to write in their pen-pal's native language, but as time went by and the scheme became more popular, the schools began experimenting with writing in their own languages and translating the replies. In this way students were able to improve in all the four areas of writing, speaking, reading and listening.

The two sets of students exchanged information about themselves, their families, their interests and their local areas. But it wasn't until Kelso High School got involved that the student's began sending each other their photographs. Hector and Violet explained to us the huge impact this had on one of their Mexican students - a 14 year-old boy named Ulisses: "He developed a real crush on his pen-pal. When we pointed out that she was 16, and maybe a little too old for him, he paused for a few moments before announcing in perfect English: 'Love knows no barriers' ! "

The Christies with some of their students

The Christies have recently returned to Scotland, but have left safe in the knowledge that the schools' students will continue to benefit from the link. "I was originally concerned about the longevity of the project, because the lack of email resources at Secundaria 45 had meant that the emails had to be sent out by myself from a local internet café" Hector told us, "however it was pointed out to me that Internet Cafes are incredibly popular with the youth in Mexico, and the school was so happy with the positive impact this project had had that it would not only continue as part of their own curriculum, but would be offered to other schools in the local area as well"

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