Oakland Junior High students use Skype for international experience

Tuesday, March 5, 2013 | 6:36 p.m. CST; updated 6:46 p.m. CST, Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Monsieur Myles Freborg, a French teacher talks to his students during a Skype interaction with MU student Jack Smithey on Tuesday at Oakland Junior High School. Smithey is an intern at Hill+Knowlton Strategies in Brussels through the MU study abroad program.

COLUMBIA — One Oakland Junior High School teacher is taking his French classes all over the world this semester.

With no long airport lines, tough security or jet-lag, Myles Freborg is using Skype video calling to connect his students to the French language and culture in countries like Belgium, Senegal, Morocco and France.

On Tuesday, Freborg arranged his class's first trip of the Skype travel program with his friend and junior at MU, Jack Smithey, who is abroad in Brussels, Belgium.

“As language teachers, the way we encourage our students to reach full fruition is to encourage them to travel,” Freborg said. “However, many students at Oakland do not have the resources to do that.”

The Skype travel program allows Freborg’s French students to simulate that travel by interacting with American students studying abroad in French-speaking nations via Skype's video calling software.

On Tuesday, students sat down around the school cafeteria's round tables to watch the screen at the front of the room for their first trip. Projected on the screen was the image of Smithey, who greeted the students with “bonjour,” as they made their way in.

Freborg met Smithey in 2011 in line at Chipotle while they were both students at MU; they soon realized they had French in common. After that, they met weekly for coffee to practice the language. At one weekly session, they came up with the idea for a Skype Travel Program.

During the presentation Tuesday, Smithey spoke to the students about his time abroad, how useful it has been to know the language and the importance of beginning its study early.

“I am so thankful that I pursued French,” Smithey said. “It opened up employment opportunities, living opportunities — a whole new set of life opportunities.”

Freborg purposely chose Americans abroad to participate in the program in the hopes that the students will see them as role models.

“I want them to see people that were in their place,” Freborg said. “To remind them why they are putting in the work now.”

The students seemed to be engaged in the Skype session, even asking Smithey a few questions at the end.

“I am just excited to see how they feel in different countries,” said Taylor Livingston, an eighth grade student in Freborg's French class. “I want to visit Paris and see the Eiffel Tower.”

Freborg hopes the program will eventually make its way to the other French classes at Oakland Junior High School.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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