- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

WATERLOO, Ill. (AP) - Thirteen-year-old Colleen Lance asked Alexandra Tenneboe what her favorite holiday was and what food she liked to eat on that holiday.

Alexandra said it was Christmas, and she liked eating pinnekjott, which is a popular dish in Norway. She described it as dried ribs with an array of spices.

“OK, you are making me hungry,” Colleen said with a laugh and a smile. “I also like Christmas.”

Colleen told Alexandra that she enjoys eating ham, potatoes and cookies on Christmas.

It was a typical interaction between two teen friends - who happen to live about 7,000 miles apart.

Colleen was seated in a red chair along with a dozen classmates huddled near a laptop, microphone and web camera. The eighth-graders at Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic School in Waterloo were videoconferencing with a group of students in Norway.

The Norwegian students stayed two hours after school to be able to talk to their keypals - the high-tech version of pen pals. It was 9:30 a.m. in Waterloo and 4:30 p.m. Norwegian time.

Each student had the chance to ask his keypals one question. Questions ranged from what sports do you play to do you watch videos on YouTube?

The eighth-graders at Ss. Peter and Paul are all students in an international studies class taught by Bill Theobald on Wednesdays. Theobald is a retired Waterloo School District teacher who stepped back into the classroom this year at the private Catholic school in town to educate the students on different countries, cultures and communities. Theobald teaches four International Studies courses - one for each junior high grade level: fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth.

Before the videoconferencing with the Norway school began, Theobald reminded the students to speak slowly and enunciate clearly.

Eighth-grader Will Janson, 13, of Waterloo, welcomed Norwegian teacher Kathrine Kopperud and her class.

“It’s amazing the picture and sound from 7,000 miles away,” Theobald said as the students began asking their keypals their questions. “The world is so small.”

To keep the videoconferencing moving, Theobald wrote up a script for the students, which he shared with Kopperud and her class via e-mail.

Will asked his keypal Lucas Morken if the school has any sports teams.

“The school does not have any sports teams,” Lucas said. “If you want to play a sport, you have to join a private club after school.”

Waterloo students asked if the Norwegian students had to wear school uniforms like they did. They don’t.

“They wear the same things you do and the same brands,” Kopperud answered.

Alexandra wore her national costume - a bunad - to show the Waterloo students what it looked like. Alexandra said it is common to wear bunad for special occasions like weddings, baptisms, confirmations and especially May 17, Norway’s National Day.

The costume included a Hardangerbunad, which consisted of a dress called a stakk made out of wool, a white shirt, and a white apron with embroidery and a belt with beads sewn on.

The Norwegian students, who spoke very good English, gave a brief language lesson.

“Hi” in Norwegian is “hei.”

“Goodbye” is “ha det.”

“What is your name” is “hva heter du?”

“My name is” is “jeg heter.”

The Waterloo students had a difficult time pronouncing Norwegian words.

Colleen asked Kopperud how many students are in each class at their school. “Between 25 and 30,” Kopperud said. “This class is an elective subject so there’s not as many.”

Colleen told her there are 30 students total in the eighth-grade at Ss. Peter and Paul, and classes have between 13 and 14 students.

Theobald asked Kopperud and her students if they would like to video conference again before Christmas, and they all agreed. He suggested they sing Christmas songs next time.

Afterward, Colleen said the video conference was fun. “I like meeting new people, and it’s interesting to learn about people in other cultures,” she said.

Lillie Roever, 13, of Waterloo, said it was “cool to finally see them after emailing for a while.”

Emelia O’Neill, 14, of Smithton, was impressed by how well Norwegian students spoke English. “It was really cool to see they could speak English a lot better than I thought they would,” she said.

Emelia enjoys communicating with students in other countries. “A lot of the things they do are the same as we do,” she said, “and they like a lot of the same things we do.”

Like the eighth-graders, the fifth-through-seventh graders enrolled in international studies this semester also have keypals. For instance, sixth-graders communicate with students at Aberdeen Composite School in Saskatchewan, Canada, and seventh-graders with students at a school in Cassis, France, called College Les Gorguettes.

To network with classes around the world, Theobald uses programs including E. Pals, Skype and Edmodo. What makes it possible is the technology, according to Theobald. “It’s all free so schools can afford it,” he said.

During the semester-long international studies class, students complete a series of projects while studying geography and current events.

Emelia enjoys watching CNN Student News in class, which helps her be better informed about what’s happening in the world. “I learn a lot more about what’s going on,” she said.

Lillie likes the international studies class. “It’s cool, because we get to learn about things happening in other countries,” she said. “You get to see people in other countries are like the same and not that much different.”

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Source: Belleville News-Democrat, https://bit.ly/1wA1voE

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Information from: Belleville News-Democrat, https://www.bnd.com

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