Accessing the cultural wonders of the world can seem all too easy in the age of the internet.
A curious “traveler” can spend hours scrolling through photos and videos, tuning in to local radio stations, even going on virtual museum walkthroughs. It could make a person wonder if the hassle of going abroad — the tickets, passports, jet lag, customs lines and crowds of fellow tourists — is really worth the effort.
At Cheshire High School’s Global Awareness Week, however, students, staff, and community partners worked together to show that, while getting to know the world from the comfort of the couch might be a more convenient way to expand one’s horizons, getting together in person to experience other cultures has benefits far beyond the obvious.
Global Awareness Week at the high school had, like many peoples’ travels, been on hiatus in recent years. Last held in 2015, an in-person event celebrating the many cultures of the community needed a “rebirth,” explained World Language Department Leader Artur Branco. “We’re celebrating the diversity of the entire high school,” he said.
One community partner was the Cheshire Cultural Diversity Association. The local group is “committed to educating and encouraging people of diverse backgrounds to participate in enjoyable and interesting programs, designed to cultivate a community of belonging and well-being,” as their website explains. The group coordinated with several cultural organizations to bring their artistry to the school.
CHS student Mahrukh Ahmed was one of the liaisons between the school and the CCDA. Having met the nonprofit at their booth during Cheshire’s Fall Festival, she wanted to see a collaboration happen.
“I just thought that it would be something fun for the high school” to have the group help with the event, stated Ahmed. She said of Global Awareness Week, “The event has been awesome. People are really respectful of each other and their cultures and I’ve had so much fun.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeff Solan, who also reported having “a great time” at one of the morning sessions, explained, “The world is getting smaller every day and our CHS graduates will likely be going to school or ultimately working with more and more people from other parts of the world. This week is an opportunity to celebrate individual heritage and learn about the beauty our world has to offer.”
CHS currently provides students instruction in Spanish, Italian, French, Latin, and German, with the opportunity for some students to visit countries where those languages are spoken, such as France and Spain. The District would like to offer more languages too, but “the biggest challenge that we have is finding someone to teach it,” said Solan, adding that certified teachers in language instruction, especially for Chinese and Japanese, are not easy to find.
The Commons walls at the school, as well as the cafeteria and World Languages hallway, were decorated with posters depicting culturally-significant sites and other “Landmarks of the World” for the week-long festivities. Subjects ranged from well-known engineering marvels such as the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Great Wall of China, and the Taj Mahal to some lesser-known places like the Brest Fortress in Belarus, with its colossal monument to the soldiers who perished during the Operation Barbarossa offensive in World War II.
The posters were entered into a contest judged by students in CHS’ AP Art class.
While some people travel mostly to try new foods, others prefer the comfort of the familiar, seeking out Pizza Hut or McDonald’s while abroad. CHS students were asked to bring food to share and they responded to the challenge. CHS’s Culinary Arts Department also had a hand in bringing some of the recipes to fruition.
Among the many food offerings at the event were Korean tteokbokki, Ecuadorian yapingachos, Greek kou-lourakia, Puerto Rican tembleque, and Russian medovik. Others dishes included a large amount of Irish colcannon — some students mistook the offering for vanilla mint ice cream — Italian anisette cookies, Nanaimo bars from Canada, Jewish challah, and Polish prune pierogies.
Perhaps even more than food, music can bring people of different cultures together. Karime Pimentel and Jacqueline Bayas performed Ecuadorian and Dominican dances, says Mariza Carbone, a Spanish teacher at CHS, who participated in organizing Global Awareness Week. Thursday’s events included a performance from the Mulan Dance School, specialists in traditional Chinese dance.
On Wednesday, the Jinhing Dance Group performed three dances. The first one was Mongolian, imitating the flight of eagles across the wide Mongolian-Manchurian steppes. The second one was Tibetan in origin, recalling the laborious climbing of the Himalayas.
The last dance — classical Chinese — told the story, in movement, of a doomed romance between a beekeeper and a shepherd — “a not-so-happy tale,” as one of the dancers put it.
Following that solemn performance, the group’s final dance called upon students to participate. With dozens of dancers moving together with the Jinhing performers on the Commons floor, the dance seemed to embody the spirit of the event: bringing people of all backgrounds together to celebrate a shared community.