by the Opelika Observer staff


Justin Bieber. The Twilight saga. Basketball.

Students in Zach Thornton’s seventh grade English class at Drake Middle School were pleasantly surprised Monday to learn that their pen pals in Nepal weren’t all that different from themselves, enjoying many of the same activities and entertainment.

“Yes, I have heard of Beyonce. I know many of her songs,” one Nepalese student wrote back.

Thornton’s students, along with kids from four other Drake classes, wrote letters to pen pals at the Neric Academy, an English learning school located in Nepal’s capitol, Kathmandu. The academy is a boarding school, housing students varying in age from the elementary to the high school level. The school is a 10th of the size of Drake Middle, according to Thornton.

Thornton taught briefly at the Neric Academy two years ago, retaining a close friendship with one of the school’s administrators. When Thornton was hired last year as an English teacher at Drake, he saw an opportunity to allow his students access to a part of the world they may never get to visit.

“I loved my experience in Nepal, and felt like it was a truly enriching experience to learn from their culture, and I wanted to share it with my kids,” Thornton said. “This was my first year teaching, and these kids were going to leave a lasting mark on me, so I wanted to see if I could try to do the same for them.”

Thornton’s students wrote their pen pals at the beginning of this semester, and the responses took several months to arrive back to Auburn from the Himilayan foothills. The envelope was addressed to the state of “Albama.”

Students were somewhat struck by the differences in language usage in the letters from their new Nepalese friends. Instead of asking about their American friends’ future goals, the Nepalese students asked the Auburners about their “aims” in life.

“They have been taught the Nepali language for most of their lives, so, to some of them, English is a very new language,” Thornton said, explaining to the class why some phrases are different.

Overall, students were pleased with the responses they received, gushing over photos sent by some of their new pals.

“It’s been a really good experience,” seventh grader Maddie Sims said. “It’s cool to know that we’re not that different from them in most ways.”

Thornton said he hopes to make the letter exchange a permanent part of his curriculum, and hopes it will show students a new and a different view of the world.

“It’s about realizing there’s a lot of similarities from there to here,” Thornton said. “We all like to have fun and make new friends, no matter where in the world we are.”