Two cultures intersect through poetry

This winter, Ms. Linda Derezinski’s freshman English class traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, through poetry. Her students, by creating blogs on Weebly, developed a platform to share their original poetry, their analyses of acclaimed poems, and their thoughts on the world surrounding them through the eyes of a poet. Students at the Robert College––an English school that exclusively serves Turkish children––followed suit, and posted their reflections about the world according to poetry on their blogs. This Poetry Exchange Project gave Dana girls a taste of a faraway culture and, in turn, gave Turkish students a glimpse into the inner happenings of a New England girls’ school.

When history teacher Ms. Alexandra Siemon, who is the advisor of the Global Scholars Program,  approached Ms. Derezinski about participating in a poetry project with a school in Istanbul––where one her of colleagues is positioned––the latter seized the opportunity to enrich her curriculum. The project did not flow seamlessly, however. The two schools’ conflicting vacation schedules resulted in the Turkish class finishing their project, and thus ending their participation in it, when the Dana girls reached the halfway point in their own projects. Nevertheless, the project’s impact on the students’ mindsets was meaningful, as Ms. Derezinski says, “it was powerful for my kids to realize that they had a real audience from a relatively unknown culture. The second my kids realized this, the quality of their work and the amount that they were vested doubled….They didn’t want to look stupid.”

The freshmen were responsible for all aspects of their blogs, from the visual components to the layout to the written work. The students’ control of the project encouraged them to produce work they were proud of, an aspect that contributed to the quality of their poems. Ms. Derezinski also acknowledged that her kids were surprised by the “great reverence” that “Turkish culture” has for poetry. All of the Turkish students had more than one favorite living poet, while the Dana girls struggled to name more than one.

The project culminated in a group Skype call. To make the call possible, class schedules had to be shifted slightly, as Turkey is seven hours ahead of Massachusettes. On the last day before spring break, Dana girls came in early before school, while the Turkish students stayed late after their classes. Two Dana girls were paired with four students from Robert College. After a video introduction, the groups exchanged their ideas through the Skype chat function. A shared Google Doc was also used for longer trains of thought. For this particular conversation, the Dana girls chose to share a song lyric that resonated with them. While the students involved in the project come from vastly different backgrounds, Ms. Derezinski did not spend a lot of time educating her students on their cultural background. Her colleague did the same. As a result, the students “looked at each other” exclusively “as poets, as readers of poetry, and as students of poetry.”

The project also formed connections between students who would probably never encounter each other otherwise. Saaniya Desai ’19 was “touched by the way these girls made an effort to explain their ideas” even when language and cultural barriers made communication difficult at times.

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