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Saint Thomas students’ video chat builds intercultural connections with peers in China

January 10, 2018
Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic School students take turns video chatting with Chinese peers.

A live video chat with children in China has helped Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic School students build intercultural connections.

Sixth graders in the Saint Thomas enrichment program spoke with students from Wuyuan Middle School in Ningxia Province on Wednesday, January 10. Their conversation was part of an ongoing “virtual exchange” program which has involved sharing recorded videos and other material about the students’ respective cultures. Wednesday’s video chat was the first opportunity for the two groups to speak with each other in real time.

Each participating student took a turn in front of the webcam and spoke with a counterpart on the other side of the world. They asked each other about pastimes, travel and favorite foods (hamburgers were popular among Chinese students when asked about American foods; of Chinese foods, Saint Thomas students talked about fried rice). The Chinese students also gave the Saint Thomas students Chinese names, with meanings like “Eagle” and “Phoenix.”

Enrichment teacher Jeanne Walch said the weekly virtual exchange activities fit nicely with the 6th grade curriculum focusing on world studies.

“Forming relationships is the main goal,” Mrs. Walch said. “It helps us to see people other than ourselves and how we are all connected; we’re all God’s children. We each have a place in the world. We each have something to contribute, and that makes us whole.”

Mrs. Walch is offering the virtual exchange program with coordination from David Du, director of international student services at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University. Mr. Du also helps support Chinese exchange students at West Catholic High School. He said he began supporting these exchange programs after families of Chinese students at KCAD asked for opportunities for their younger students to interact with U.S. students.

“We’re trying to understand each other, and things we learn from the news [about each other’s countries] are always bad,” said Mr. Du. “I thought, ‘Why not have kids teach kids?’ They can learn from each other. We have the technology now; why not?”

International learning like this embraces the growing connections among all parts of the world, pointed out Saint Thomas middle school religion and social studies teacher Adam Baxter. “It’s 21st-century learning,” Mr. Baxter said. “This is hands-on. This is technology at its best, what we want to use technology for. The other thing is, it’s Catholic social teaching; it’s solidarity. We’re bridging gaps.”

For Saint Thomas 6th grader Ian, the mutual learning through the virtual exchange program has been exciting, and the live video chat has been a high point. “It’s really interesting getting to learn about what they like and what they do,” Ian said. “We get to talk to people in China – this is awesome!”

Mrs. Walch said she and Mr. Du are willing to help more schools launch a virtual exchange program. She invites interested educators to contact her at

Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic School in Grand Rapids serves 350 students in preschool through 8th grade. Learn more here.