Building International Connections During COVID

December 05, 2020

PAAC’s commitment to international exchange remains strong during these challenging times.

On December 5, 12 PAAC students met virtually with 12 Vietnamese teenagers for a peer-to-peer student exchange event. Facilitated by PAAC and STEC Dien Ban, an extracurricular English language school in Dien Ban, Vietnam, the collaboration brought together young people in Hawaiʻi and Vietnam in a spirit of international exchange and supportive learning. PAAC students, who volunteered from 8 public, private, and charter schools on Oʻahu, learned more about Vietnam, its culture, and food. STEC Dien Ban students stretched their linguistic comfort zones by practicing their English with native speakers.

“This 1,000% needs to happen again!” reflected one PAAC student. “Doing this…helped me to acknowledge that I also am at their level of speaking in another language, so I understand their difficulty.

Another said, “I just wanted to say thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to partake in this event! It was such a great experience and I really do hope that there will be future events like this.”

PAAC’s relationship with STEC Dien Ban is deeply rooted. PAAC's After School Class Curriculum Writer, Karen Chun, is also the founder of STEC Dien Ban. For over a decade, students traveling with PAAC to Vietnam have visited STEC Dien Ban to interact with their peers in Dien Ban and engage in cross-cultural exchange. Since 2012, STEC Dien Ban has invited students on PAAC’s Service-Learning Study Tour to Vietnam to develop and teach their own English lessons to Vietnamese students enrolled at their school. This newest collaboration, while new in format, is a continuation of the long-established and flourishing relationship between two organizations dedicated to international learning and cross-cultural exchange.

“The event was fun and really enjoyable for me,” reflected one English language student from STEC Dien Ban. Another commented, “I hope in the future I’ll have a chance to take this event again.”

Ten adult volunteers – many of them longtime PAAC community supporters – also joined the virtual event to support the students in their breakout rooms. “I admire the bravery and confidence of the students whose first language is not English,” one volunteer shared. “Their speaking skills were all so impressive, especially when they were asked questions without a prepared response.”

With students, teachers, and volunteers on both sides expressing enthusiasm for similar events in the future, PAAC and STEC Dien Ban are exploring ways to improve and expand virtual collaboration together. “We’ve been looking at ways to adapt international exchange for virtual environments,” said Jason Shon, PAAC High School Program Director. “This is such a great way for PAAC to try something new while strengthening our relationship with STEC Dien Ban. I’m excited to see what the future holds!”