Connecting With Cameroon
Dec 20, 2012
When Dr. Gay Rawson, associate professor of French, was thinking about how to approach a pen pal project with students in Cameroon, her class about French current affairs seemed like the perfect match.
Rawson figured the class could discuss how sustainability differs between the United States and Cameroon. But what started out as a letter about sustainability quickly became much more personal. After just one letter, it was clear that the students in Cameroon already had an emotional attachment to their pen pal.
“There was a sincere desire to exchange and connect,” Rawson says. “And we’ve gotten some incredible insight into their lives in Cameroon.”
The project is in partnership with Emily Erlandson, a Peace Corps volunteer who met Rawson through tri-college French classes a few years ago.
“It started out as an assignment,” says Jenée Anderson '13, St. Louis Park, Minn. “I didn’t expect it to have as big of an impact on them – or on me.”
The students understand the unique nature of this exchange. Most of them have agreed to continue communicating with their pen pal, even though their class is done.
“I was mostly just excited to have the opportunity to connect with another person across the globe,” says Heather Burtman ’14, Eau Claire, Wis. “I was actually quite surprised by how warm and open they were in their response.”
Rawson's students wrote the first letters, which were scanned and emailed to Erlandson. Because computer access in Cameroon is hard to come by, the class had to wait a few months before they heard anything back.
But one day, in the middle of the semester, the responses came. And they were much more personal than the class expected.
“My pen pal told me about his rough life in Cameroon but said he was very excited to have an American pen pal,” says Jolee French ’14, Horace, N.D. “He said he would name his first child after me.”
Rawson says that education is important in Cameroon, even though most students know what their futures hold. After high school, they’ll go back to working in the fields on the farm or learn a trade like carpentry. But that doesn’t deter anyone from finishing school.
Steven Kurtz ’13, Aitkin, Minn., knew their pen pals were from an impoverished area, but reading about their struggles was humbling.
“Being confronted with that reality was hard,” he says. “It put stressing out over college into perspective – we're all really lucky to be doing what we're doing at Concordia.”
Note: Rawson and Dr. Zacharie Petnkeu, assistant professor of French, led a May Seminar to Cameroon in 2007. The thumbnail photo on the home page is from that trip.