It Takes Two To Tandem

As my Fulbright assignment comes to an end, and as I am enjoying this Oregon spring weather, I really want to share one last story before passing the torch to the next Fulbrighter. I want to share a story of how 30 students defeated geographical challenges and had a conversation while being 8207 kilometers away from each other.

As a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant, I have been sent to Pacific University to help teach the French language and be an ambassador for the francophone culture(s). For many of my students, I am one of the very few native francophones they have ever met. It is even more probable that I am the only Belgian they will ever meet. Our “tandem project” was a way to change that!

Building on my past experience at the Université catholique de Louvain, I set out to organize an exchange project between our students of French at Pacific and students of English at the UCL. With my former colleagues at the UCL, we designed a timeline for an exchange to take place during the Spring of 2018. After numerous emails and Skyping, the plan was at its final design.

Starting in early February, our Belgian and American students had to record 5-minute long video capsules about one of four possible topics. The topics ranged from daily life, hobbies, and their aspirations for the future, to questioning the acceptance and inclusion of otherness in their respective societies. All of these videos were uploaded to a dedicated blog and students were paired together. Finally, each of these pairs then had to decide on a day and time for a Skype appointment to continue the conversation about each other’s topics. This is where our 30 students had the occasion to exchange their stories and views with students just like them about topics that they could relate to.

Michael Grare- It Takes Two to Tandem

It was a win for everyone! Barring the occasional technical problem and the time zone challenges, our students talked with someone they might never have met otherwise. They did so in two different languages, 8000+ miles apart and with 9 hours of time difference. They fought their shyness, anxiety and linguistic insecurities, and they came out with a win.

Ultimately, this a story of how we can leverage modern technologies to build bridges and create more human interaction, not less. This is a story we want to share and we want to see reiterated. We are currently analyzing our students and teachers’ feedback to this exchange in order to establish guidelines and advice for future similar projects. We are going to share our tandem experience and advice with other teachers in Oregon and the state of Washington at the 2018 WAFLT/COFLT conference this fall. We are hopeful that this will inspire other teachers to connect their students to other students in their classes. This is a story of how the Fulbright program built a bridge and opened a whole channel of collaboration between two programs, universities, and regions half a world apart.

I personally want to thank all of our students, Claudine Grommersch and the English department at the UCL, Nicole Thorburn and my other colleagues at Pacific, and the Fulbright program for making all of this possible. Thank you.

Michaël Grare is a 2017-2018 Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant to Pacific University. Articles are written by Fulbright grantees and do not reflect the opinions of the Fulbright Commission, the grantees’ host institutions, or the U.S. Department of State.