Postcard Writing Exchange project to connect high school students to college students studying German

The University of Iowa German Department launched the project on March 31, where students studying German in college will write letters to high school German students to stay connected during COVID-19



Isabel Tuisl, News Reporter

After recognizing the increase in screen burnout among students, the University of Iowa Department of German has launched a postcard exchange for University of Iowa German students to connect with German students at Iowa colleges and high schools.

Kirsten Kumpf Baele, who is a lecturer in the German department and faculty advisor of the project, said she launched the “Postcard Writing Exchange” project on March 31 with the German Department’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Student Ambassadors Shelby Tipling and Roman Ebert.

The university is working with German students at Grinnell College and Cornell College to connect with German students at four high schools in the area: Cedar Rapids Prairie High School, Jefferson High School, Urbandale High School, and Waukee High School, Kumpf Baele said.

She said Cornell, Grinnell, and UI college students sent out the first round of hand-written postcards to their paired high school students last Wednesday.

Tipling wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that true to Germany’s sustainability and recycling efforts, the recycled postcards are supplied and processed through the Division of World Languages and Cultures office in Phillips Hall to be sent out to the participating high schools.

“We want to create a personalized outreach experience that will allow communication between high school and college students to share and encourage language learning through the University’s Division of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures,” Tipling wrote.

The project includes 31 college students – 21 from the UI, eight from Cornell, and two from Grinnell – along with 150 high school students, Tipling said. Each college student is assigned around five high school students to write letters to.

“We thought it would be nice to do something physical rather than something online,” Ebert said. “It’s a good way to show local high school students that maybe they should consider studying German at the University of Iowa.”

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Because of COVID-19, representatives from the university’s German program were unable to visit high schools for recruitment events like usual, Tipling said, but they “still wanted to harbor personalized experience from student to student”.

There was a soft launch of the project in fall 2020 to see how it would operate, Kumpf Baele said, and from that, word got around, and they decided to pursue a full launch in spring 2021.

Teachers at surrounding high schools were really excited about the project, she said.

“It’s really a COVID-19-inspired project,” Kumpf Baele said. “I think that’s what makes us unique – the way in which our students and faculty members, and I, are thinking of ways to still create recruitment and connection opportunities, even though we’re all restricted behind Zoom cameras.”

Studies have shown that writing things out by hand is valuable, Kumpf Baele said, and by doing so, one’s brain is forced to process knowledge in a more detailed way, which helps in remembering things later.

“That couldn’t be more true for a language that isn’t your own,” Kumpf Baele said. “We see it also as a way to help students practice German and get them motivated and excited about studying at the university.”

The hope is that through this process, Kumpf Baele said, the high school students will feel comfortable reaching out to the college student that writes to them to ask questions about courses or enrollment in the future.

“Journaling and writing letters is therapeutic,” Kumpf Baele said. “We thought that the writing process could connect students in an old-fashioned way and revive the postcard. Everybody texts these days, everybody’s on social media. But sometimes it’s fun to do something retro.”

From a faculty member’s perspective, she said there is a true benefit in putting smiles on people’s faces because they are receiving actual mail.

While the UI German department hopes to have a Zoom party with all the students that are part of the project at the end of the semester, Kumpf Baele said the project’s end goal is bigger than that.

“Our hope beyond this project is continuing a pen pal relationship or a big brother/little brother or big sister/little sister kind of connection,” Kumpf Baele said. “We want to bring students to the University of Iowa.”

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