East County fifth-graders corresponded with students a world away.
As he learned how to say hello and count to four in Mandarin, Braden River Elementary fifth-grader Aiden May imagined he had nothing in common with his new Chinese pen pal, Michael.
He had no idea how similar they would actually be.
“He plays my favorite video game,” May said. “He plays Roblox. It’s like he knows me.”
Angelica Muench is a fifth-grade teacher at Braden River Elementary. Her friend she met at the University of South Florida, Crystal Beatty, moved to China two years ago to work at Tsinghua University High School International in the Chaoyang District of Beijing.
Most of the Chinese students writing to the Braden River students are in elementary school, but older students who became pen pals are actually training to be Olympic athletes at Tsinghua University High School, which teaches all grades.
When Beatty suggested that her new students become pen pals with Muench’s students, the Braden River teacher was quick to accept.
On Feb. 16, Beatty was back in the area visiting due to the Chinese New Year, so she delivered the first of the letters from her students. Muench said her students had a hard time containing their excitement.
May introduced himself with a “ni hao” (hello in Mandarin), and Muench taught her students how to say “Happy New Year” in Mandarin.
What are some ways students think their life would be different if they lived in China?
Nina Fitzgerald said she probably would eat noodles all the time. Especially pad thai and lo mein.
Nadia Benko said she would live off fortune cookies, if she could.
Claire Femenia said she would try to adapt to the Chinese students’ impressive work ethic.
“I think it’s cool they’re learning English,” Femenia said. “I wonder what it would be like to learn Chinese.”
She wondered about what kind of gift the Chinese students might send her. “I want a panda,” Femenia said. “Like a live panda.”
She would name the panda “Muddy.”
Megan Conley said her dad has been to China six times, but she is curious about life in China.
“I want to know what it’s like over there, like who runs the country?” Conley said. “Is it like a king or a queen or a president?”
Once they received their letters, the students rushed to read them and share what their new pen pals had written.
Conley was surprised her pen pal (the Chinese students didn’t sign their names to the letters and only attached an Americanized name) didn’t like Chinese music.
“She said (her family) all lived in an apartment. It’s so different than here because here you buy a house and start a family. Everyone lives in houses,” Conley said.
Conley’s pen pal also traced some Chinese money onto the letter.
Twin sisters wrote to Fitzgerald and her classmate, Jessica Cruz Lopez. Beatty said they were actually fraternal twins, and Fitzgerald and Cruz Lopez compared their letters to see if they had similar handwriting. They did.
Abby Burns loves to draw, and her pen pal drew her a picture of herself in lieu of sending a photo. Several of the students received hand drawn pictures, including Julio Garcia.
Garcia’s pen pal, who called herself Amanda, drew him a picture of herself with her little sister. She wrote that she believes she’s a little overweight, which Garcia thought was funny and a little weird.
“I’m trying to figure out what it means,” Garcia said of a Post-it note attached that said, “Dear Julio up to you.”
When Beatty returns to China, she will deliver the Braden River responses.
Shane Marks is excited to keep the dialogue going because he feels he has a lot in common with his pen pal.
“I’ve watched all 37 Godzilla movies, and he likes Godzilla, too,” Marks said. “And he said his dog likes to eat ham. That’s pretty funny.”