In the summer of 2020, when Covid-19 shut the world down, I was able to connect with someone from the other side of the world. Mrs. Turner, the awesome Director for Civic and Global Engagement at Lovett, reached out to all of the students pursuing a Diploma Distinction in Global studies about a unique opportunity.
A member of the Buckhead Rotary club, Peter Vang Jensen, was looking to hire a summer tutor for a secondary school (high school) student in Tanzania, also named Peter. Adult Peter wanted to help teenage Peter develop his English language skills through grammar activities, reading practice, and one-on-one conversations.
Ten minutes after Mrs. Turner sent out the announcement (yes, I check my school email during the summer), I took on the role which would become one of my greatest passion projects in high school.
During that summer, I met and worked with teenage Peter over Google Meet. I learned that he wants to be a lawyer, loves the “Fast and Furious” franchise, and can see Mount Kilimanjaro outside of his window.
The experience was incredible, but when fall came and Peter and I both headed back to school, I figured it was over (at least, the tutoring part of it…we still text each other from time to time).
However, later that fall, in the midst of my crazy junior year, Peter Vang Jensen reached out to me about creating a new tutoring opportunity, and once again, I took up the offer.
Over the next several months, I worked with him and Mrs. Turner to establish an international tutoring program in which ten Lovett Upper School students would regularly meet with ten secondary school students at the Naura School in Arusha, Tanzania.
With the partnership of the Buckhead Rotary, the Arusha Rotary, the Lovett School, and the Naura school, I launched the America-Tanzania Tutoring Program (a.k.a. The English Language lab or Tanzania Tutoring) in February 2021. I design the curricula for the now-weekly sessions to consist of get-to-know-you questions, a reading about an aspect of either American or Tanzania culture, and a discussion about the reading.
Both the Lovett tutors and the Naura students opt into the program, and it’s so popular that there is always a waiting list on both sides.
One of the current Lovett tutors, sophomore Hannah Brown, says she joined the program last fall because she “thought it was a cool opportunity to get to know people from another country and connect with them.”
Of course, because the program entails connecting students on opposite sides of the world, the logistics are inherently pretty complicated.
For example, the East Africa Time zone is either seven or eight hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone, depending on whether it’s daylight savings time. That means the only mutually convenient time for both schools is morning in the United States and afternoon in Tanzania. So we had to take advantage of Lovett’s Wednesday late start days to make the program possible.
Instead of sleeping in on Wednesday morning, when school doesn’t start until 8:50AM, Lovett students in the America-Tanzania tutoring program wake up early and log into 7:45AM sessions.
“I always look a bit frazzled” senior Kiley Jones says about the Wednesday morning meetings, “because I legitimately get to school exactly five minutes before the meeting starts.”
But the most challenging aspect of it has been the technological piece. A grant from the Buckhead Rotary provided ten laptops and wifi service to the Naura School for use in the program, but the implementation of the technology wasn’t easy at first. Thanks to virtual school during the Covid-19 pandemic, Lovett students were well versed in Google Meets, but most of the Naura School students did not have any experience using computers or email accounts, let alone video conferencing.
Along with helping the Naura students learn English, we had to dedicate a good amount of time to helping them get comfortable with technology. We taught them the Google Meet etiquette that we all learned during the pandemic (muting and unmuting, joining breakout rooms, etc.) as well as how to open and respond to emails so that we could communicate between sessions.
Even as we sorted all of this out, we still had to stay flexible and understand the realities of working with people in another country. Power outages and spotty wifi are a lot more common in Arusha than they are in Atlanta, causing not-so-infrequent session cancellations.
We’ve also learned to consider the fact that Arusha students and Lovett students come from different cultures. It’s what makes the program truly eye-opening for all participants, but it can also cause some frustration at times.
For example, in America, we tend to plan out our lives far ahead of time, while in Tanzania, people tend to live more in the moment rather than stick to a strict schedule. Last-minute cancellations, or calling off sessions without any prior warning, do happen from time to time, although they have become less common as our partnership with the Naura School has become stronger.
Despite all of these logistical challenges, the America-Tanzania Tutoring Program has been incredibly successful. It’s an opportunity for the Tanzanian students to develop their English skills through interactions with native English speakers, but it’s also a cultural exchange between young people in America and Tanzania.
In fact, the great success of the program inspired the expansion of the program. Georgia State Honors College now has a program with their student body. We continue to run sessions on Wednesdays, and they lead additional sessions on Mondays and Tuesdays. Now, the Naura students get to engage in three English language sessions every week, and even more American students can take part in this international experience.
As for me, I will be graduating this spring and calling on a Lovett underclassman to run the program for the next group of students. After two years of planning and establishing this international partnership, it will certainly be bittersweet for me to pass the torch, but I feel very lucky to have had the privilege of working with some incredible students in both America and Tanzania.