Online learning shortens the distance between the world and international companions inspire students' vision
In order to cultivate young international talents in Taiwan and to increase the interest and motivation of elementary and junior high school students in learning English, the Ministry of Education (MOE) commissioned National Taiwan University to plan and implement the International Companions for Learning (ICL). The ICL recruits foreign students in Taiwanese universities, who are studying in Taiwan, and matches these students with local university students, to be international companions who both conduct weekly English video calls with national elementary and junior high school students. The ICL also arrange a physical "Meet and Greet" event once a semester to allow these university students to meet and exchange ideas with each other. This year, there were 399 classes from 160 elementary and junior high schools which participated in this program, with nearly 800 university students serving nearly 4,000 national elementary and junior high school students. The foreign university students who participate in the program are currently pursuing degrees at top universities in Taiwan or are on exchange or visiting programs. After strict selection and training by the program team, they interact with the elementary school peers. Each foreign student is paired with a local student and they are responsible for communicating with the national elementary and junior high schools before and after school, as well as assisting and translating during the school day when necessary. The program is designed to enhance the international communication and language skills of both national university students and the elementary and junior high school students.
On May 13, 2023, the Department of Information and Technology Education of the MOE and the program host, Professor Jiun-Huei Proty Wu of National Taiwan University, led the participating international university partners to Kinmen County to "Meet and Greet" with the elementary school partners from the partner schools, Sikou Elementary School and Gucheng National Primary School. The Sikou Elementary School's Chinese Music Club performed three pieces of music, including "Home", "Blooming Flowers and the Full Moon", and "Blue and White Porcelain", to welcome the university partners. After that, the elementary school students guided the university students to go into the community and started a cultural tour. The students joined together to learn about the local cultural characteristics of Sikou, the culture of the talisman “Wind Rooster” and the history of Western Street in Lieyu, and to highlight the local characteristics internationally and in order to see the world from Lieyu. Principal Liu Chieh-Hung of Sikou Elementary School said, “The ICL lets students from Lieyu Township, Kinmen County, connect to the world from a small island, to meet peers from different countries and cultures, and to recognize and respect diverse cultures, and I hope this activity will help students to communicate more courageously with the world.”
Gucheng National Primary School organized ice breaker games, scenery viewing of Gugang Lake and costume experience to warmly welcome university students from different countries and to greet each other in their native language in order to develop closer ties. Through the ice breaker games, the students not only created a natural English communication atmosphere and enhanced the communication and cooperation among their peers, but also learned to develop team spirit. A cultural field trip was arranged to visit the famous the Gugang Tower, where students learned about the history, culture, architecture and style of the Gugang Tower, followed by a tour of Gugang Lake, where students walked along the mountain trails and shared the local characteristics in English in an ecological environment. The finale was the costume experience, where students dressed up in beautiful costumes, enjoyed the lake scenery and took photographs, not only for cultural exchange but also for heritage and continuity.
Professor Jiun-Huei Proty Wu of National Taiwan University said that the exchange terms of this program are very diverse. In addition to the university students introducing their country's culture, economy, politics, food, clothing, housing and transportation in English, the elementary school partners will also learn to introduce their own local culture in English. Many of the elementary school students have taken the initiative to learn English vocabulary and presentation skills, and more than 90% of them hope to continue participating in the program. Teachers in elementary and junior high schools are very glad students can change their attitudes for learning.
These international companions changed the framework of traditional English learning, creating a natural bilingual learning atmosphere, and promoting the local characteristics of the cities and counties to enhance multicultural exchange, not only to improve the overall English language ability of elementary and junior high school students, but also to enhance the cross-cultural and international communication skills of the participating young people.