Walker’s student Le (Sarah) You ’22 has created Chat-Pal, a new community partnership at The Ethel Walker School that was created during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chat-Pal is an international peer social support system that connects students from Walker’s with high school students from Wuhan, China who aim to study abroad online.
As an international Asian student from Wuhan, Sarah felt discrimination and hate from the media during the pandemic. Sarah wanted to do something for young adolescents like her in her hometown for other students who did not experience the same level of support she received from her own school. Knowing that many Wuhan high school students are reconsidering studying abroad for college because of the hate crimes reported by Chinese media, Sarah wanted to show her friends that her community in America is different, and that most Americans are not like the ones depicted in the media. At the same time, Sarah wished to educate her peers at Walker’s about the daily lives of Chinese high school students.
Sarah received approval from the Community Partnership Board at Walker’s to make the collaboration possible which allowed her to bridge the two communities she loves. Chat-Pal was established to eliminate cultural stereotypes created by the media during the pandemic, promote students’ intercultural conversation skills, alleviate general anxiety, educate students about Chinese/American culture in a more self-related way, and form life-long friendships with students from another country who share many similarities.
All Chat-Pal sessions are held on Zoom, and each session is one hour. The session is composed of a large group discussion, followed by randomly paired one-on-one discussions which last about 40 minutes. A detailed topic list is sent out to all participants prior to each session, including the topic of the week, the session agenda, all-group activities, and open-ended questions related to the topic for the one-on-one discussions.
During the group discussion, the leader introduces the topic of the day, which is always universally popular yet culturally different and can spark meaningful conversations between students. Past topics have included: families, the education system, beauty standards, music, pets, and movies. The discussion is followed by questions or activities that aim to provide background for both the American and Chinese participants. Participants are then sent into breakout rooms, where they continue their discussions about that topic using the question list.
“Chat-Pal has made me look forward to Saturday mornings,” said one Walker’s participant. “Chat-Pal gives me insight into the lives of Chinese high school students that I would never know about without this program.” Another participant remarked after finishing Chat-Pal, “Seeing how a girl at my age perceives the world and what they care about is truly interesting and enlightening. Talking to an American high school student and seeing the country through her eyes had completely changed my mind about America. I realize how similar my Chat-Pal and I are even though we are from totally different backgrounds.”
Chat-Pal will resume again in Fall 2021.