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Monday, May 30, 2011

Video Conferencing: From Bangladesh to St. Mary

Photo by Craig Ostroff: Students in Denise Sozda's second-grade class use Skype to talk with J.P. Feldmayer, who lives in Bangladesh. Feldmayer is the uncle of Sozda's student, George Fassnacht

CRAIG OSTROFF, Managing Editor, Montgomery News

STUDENTS IN Denise Sozda’s second-grade class at St. Mary Catholic School, Schwenksville, had a guest visit their class all the way from Bangladesh … and he never even needed to leave the comfort of his own home to do so.

J.P. Feldmayer, the uncle of Sozda’s student George Fassnacht, lives in Bangladesh and works at the United States Embassy. Feldmayer, joined by his daughter Nalia, bridged the distance and the time difference (the session took place at 10 a.m. at St. Mary’s, or 8 p.m. in Bangladesh), to speak to the students about the similarities and the differences of life in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

“Here in Bangladesh, the weekend is not Saturday and Sunday,” Feldmayer told the students during the 25-minute Skype session. “The weekend here is Friday and Saturday. So on Sunday, we go to work and we go to school. In Islam, the holy day, the special day — like Sunday is for Christians and Catholics — is Friday.”

Despite living in a country in south Asia in which 80 percent of the population is Muslim and 12 percent are Hindu, Feldmayer said it’s not difficult to remain true to his Catholic faith.

“No matter where you are in the world, the seven sacraments are the seven sacraments and they’re all there,” he told the students.

“I’m glad he brought up that Mass is the same no matter where it’s celebrated in the world, and that his children are receiving sacraments just the way we are,” Sozda said following the session. “It’s great to see that common bond, and also to learn about other religions. I think it’s a very valuable learning experience and something kids are not exposed to every day.”

The idea for the Skype session came about after reading the “Beginner’s World Atlas.” While looking at a map of the world, George mentioned that his uncle lived in Bangladesh.

“So we found it on the map and saw how far away it was and we thought it would be very interesting if we could connect with him and learn some things about the country,” Sozda said.

A few e-mails were exchanged with George’s mother, and then with Feldmayer to iron out a time and date, and then the magic of the Internet helped bridge half a world and brought the visitors into the classroom.

“It was a really long time” since he’s seen his uncle and cousins in person, George said, though he added that he sees them often via Skype. “It was really cool to let everybody see my uncle and family.”

After learning about the history of Bangladesh and the customs and traditions, the inquisitive students had the opportunity to ask their own questions about life, pets and, of course, fast food.

“Do you have Palermo’s Pizza in Bangladesh?”

“Do you have Wendy’s?”

“Do you eat turkey?”

“Do you they have Gummi Bears?”

For the record: There is no Palermo’s or Wendy’s, though Feldmayer said there is a Pizza Hut and KFC. Turkeys are rare in Bangladesh, although Feldmayer said he did see them in Pakistan. And alas, there are no Gummi Bears to be found.

“It’s funny because you see what’s important in their lives,” Sozda said. “And it’s hard for them to relate, because in our country we’re so blessed and we have so much, it is hard for them to
understand that other people don’t have as much as we do, so it’s good for them to realize that they don’t have all these things that we have.”

Sozda said she and the students were thrilled with the ease and the access granted by Skype and that she would absolutely like to use it again as a learning tool in the future.

“One click of the button we were connected — it’s amazing,” she said. “And it’s free. It’s truly amazing what we can do nowadays.”

First published in Montgomery News, Fort Washington, PA, United States, May 28, 2011

© 2011 Montgomery News, a Journal Register Property

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