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“Belgium, is that a city? Where in the world is that? That’s the place that has waffles, right?” Unfortunately this is the response that I receive from many students when I first introduce our correspondence with our “new friends” in Belgium! However, once we receive our first letter from Belgium, it is a whole new story! My students become fascinated by Belgium itself and its culture, along with the really cool idea that they have friends in Europe! Soon, nearly all of my students want to travel to this captivating country that is roughly 6.5 times smaller in land size than our state of South Dakota, but 13 times larger in terms of population!

Learning about the world and its people is one thing, but learning firsthand through letter exchanges opens students’ eyes, hearts, and minds in a whole new way! It has been a blessing to communicate with Mrs. Natascha Coene and her students at St. Aloysius College in Diksmuide! My students are learning about the differences between our two cultures, but are also discovering more similarities than they realized there were! Students have learned about World War history, Belgian education, Manneken Pis, Atomium, Tomorrowland, chocolate, Fries (and how they come from Belgium), language, “football”, and so much more! The students are intrigued that Belgian youth listen to the same music, watch the same movies and television shows, and are on the same social media! Several students have added their Belgian friends on Instagram and SnapChat! A huge highlight the other day in school was a package from Mrs. Coene! Immediately my students asked, “Is it chocolate!?!?!” Each student received a piece of Belgian chocolate! Many of the students said, “This is the BEST chocolate I’ve ever had!” My students then said, “We have to mail something back!” Over the next couple of days students brought in a variety of sweets for their friends “on the other side of the pond” to try!

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We are excited about continued correspondence and have a few ideas of what else we can do to interact and collaborate! With the world at our fingertips, our possibilities are endless! Having this personal connection with Belgium has caused my students to be more interested in other countries and cultures, it has given many students a greater desire to explore our world. I believe our interactions can lead to greater understanding between our students. Our relationship is like a bridge bringing youth together to promote peace through awareness, knowledge, and understanding. Not only has this friendship “put Belgium on the map” for my students, it has also placed Belgium in their hearts.

– Brady Olson
7th grade Geography
Brandon Valley Middle School
Brandon, South Dakota