Connecting with Kids on a Fulbright

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Eric Freedman, Professor of Journalism at Michigan State University
2018-2019 Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Georgia
2011-2012 Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Lithuania 
2002-2003 Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Uzbekistan

As a Fulbrighter, how can you share your international experiences – in fact, share the world -- with kids? I’ve done it three times through weekly letters to classes.

I began during my first Fulbright in 2002 when I taught journalism at Uzbek State World Languages University in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Those letters went via email to a granddaughter’s 5th grade class in Michigan. I made advance arrangements with the teacher, and visited the class when I returned. 

In 2011, I taught journalism in at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania. At the time I had a grandson in 4th grade in Colorado and another in kindergarten in New York. Their parents arranged ahead of time with their teachers for me to email a separate age-appropriate letter each week to each class. It was a big hit with the teachers and kids – a chance for them to learn about other cultures, languages, foods, holidays and more.  

This fall, I’m teaching at Caucasus University, Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, and doing research about environmental journalism and challenges faced by environmental journalists as my third Fulbright award. My weekly letters go to four 4th-grade classes – a grandson’s in North Carolina, a granddaughter’s in upstate New York, a friend’s daughter in New York City and a friend’s son in Michigan.

My recent topics have included an introduction to Georgia, a shopping trip to the bazaar, the Georgian alphabet, and transportation around Tbilisi. After my letter about the alphabet, one of the classes wrote back, telling me about the kids in the class and asking questions about learning the alphabet – including why Georgian has 33 letters and English only 26 – and about the weather and buildings in Tbilisi. 

Upcoming topics will include not-so-common transportation (funicular, cable car, scooter, Ferris wheel, speedboat and more), national foods, holidays, and environmental problems. (I direct the environmental journalism center at Michigan State, so this topic comes with the territory).

Here are some tips for those wanting to engage in a similar project:

  • Choose topics that will interest and intrigue kids, such as other kids, food, fun, travel, the weird, legends, sports, and so on. Steer clear of politics, unless you’re writing to a high school history class, but don’t be afraid to mention serious topics like the environment or poverty.
  • Include lots of photos and, if you wish, short video clips.
  • Include humor. Young kids love jokes, both verbal and visual.
  • Write clearly for the grade level. As a journalism colleague puts it, “Eschew jargon.”
  • Post the letters on your own blog, link them to your Facebook page, and distribute them widely, including through Fulbright venues. My Georgia letters are posted on www.ericingeorgia.wordpress.com. My Lithuania letters are at www.ericinlithuania.wordpress.com. 
  • When you return, visit the classes, if possible, to answer questions. Bring coins and currency, souvenirs, maps, postcards, bus passes and other show-and-tell material.

Many kids have had little or no exposure to things, places, and people beyond the borders of the United States. So enjoy yourself and appreciate the opportunity to open their eyes to the wonders and diversity of the world far from their homes.