Breaking Bread Across the World
When Tabor’s Global Education Committee met ahead of the 2020-2021 school year, a sharp urgency filled the room. Because of the pandemic, students would not be able to participate in the travel exchange programs that have long influenced the school’s identity. The committee, faculty members entrusted with overseeing the global arm of Tabor’s mission, was determined to find a solution.
“We knew we couldn’t go a year without providing these opportunities for exchange and connection,” says Jonathan Sirois, Chair of Tabor’s Modern & Classical Language Department.
To fill this void, Sirois and his fellow committee members came up with a novel idea. They envisaged Breaking Bread, a virtual community that would bring teenagers together from around the globe for formal and informal meetings. It would provide an antidote to the growing feelings of isolation wrought by the pandemic and continue Tabor’s long tradition of minting global citizens through global engagement.
“Breaking Bread is an homage to this idea of welcoming someone into your home and being welcomed into the home of the other,” Sirois says. “Few gestures are more genuine or intimate than looking across the dinner table. That’s the feeling we’ve tried to recreate through digital means.”
In its first year, Breaking Bread drew 150 students from 15 schools across 12 countries. The high participation speaks to the strength of the relationships Tabor has built in the international community over the years.
“We were trying to launch and create something at a time when everyone was just trying to survive,” Sirois says. “Trying to get people to do more took a lot of goodwill. We’re just incredibly grateful to our partners at each school.”
The level of commitment from the students, he says, is particularly impressive. “They give up their Sundays to make this work. The only time when we can get a school in New Mexico to connect in real time to a school in Spain or Turkey or Egypt or Jordan is on Sunday. We start at 11:00 am in Marion. That’s 9:00 am in New Mexico and 6:00 pm in Jordan. And it’s actually a school day in Jordan because they have school on Sundays.”
During the live sessions, students meet in small groups with faculty facilitators. They spend time getting to know each other before delving into more structured discussions. Last year, many of their conversations revolved around the pandemic. They talked about how it was affecting their lives—what they had gained and lost—and how they were coping with such big changes. These dialogues illuminated key differences in the global pandemic experience, but they also created a deep connection as students bonded over such a universal ordeal.
There is also an asynchronous component to Breaking Bread. When the students aren’t meeting, they’re pursuing fun projects that promote cultural exchange. They’ve curated playlists to share their favorite music, and they’ve created virtual tours of their hometowns. Another project asked them to make a video of their favorite food when they were with their families over the holidays.
“Some kids brought the camera into their dining room,” Sirois says. “We would just observe their family and friends sitting around the table, talking about the meal — how they prepared it, what it means to them, why it’s special.”
The faculty facilitators used the momentum from the first year to build an even more robust program for 2021-2022. Each trimester has a theme that guides the synchronous and asynchronous work. This past fall, students focused on climate change. They had thoughtful discussions about how it impacts their daily lives, and they learned about the different ways they could take immediate action. The unit ended with an empowering summit in late October that hosted expert speakers, including Dominique Barker, Head of Sustainability at the Imperial Bank of Canada. A week after addressing Breaking Bread students, Barker spoke at the United Nation’s COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.
In addition to the academically-inclined work, Breaking Bread participants have also formed student-led clubs that meet throughout the year. These affinity groups cover a range of interests including books, cooking, podcasts, and digital music. An LGBTQIA+ group comprised of students from other schools deserves special recognition, Sirois says, because they made an outstanding documentary that examines the international queer experience.
Historically, Tabor’s exchange programs have revolved around in-person events like summits and homestays. Although those will return once travel becomes safe, that doesn’t mean initiatives like Breaking Bread will disappear.
“I don’t think virtual exchanges should ever go away,” Sirois says. “We’ve established that the threshold to meaningful connection is so low now. The barriers to making that happen are so low. That’s one of the positive takeaways from the pandemic.
“Let’s say there’s a trip at the end of the school year,” he continues, “why would we wait until June to begin building those relationships? Why not start in September? The students who are involved can get together and learn about each other’s lives and families and hobbies. We can start that work months in advance, so by the time we get there, boom, they already know each other.”
At the time of composition, the second Breaking Bread module is well underway. The session focuses on gender diversity and equality, and students are continuing to exchange ideas through meaningful dialogue while hearing from global experts.