Jordan Brown grew up in a suburb of Sydney, Australia. Javier Uanini was also raised in the Southern Hemisphere, but on the other side of the world in Argentina. Yujin Park, Boram Kim and Adalla Kim all come from South Korea.
The five of them don’t work or live together, but last Friday, they all sat at a table in the library of PS 254 in Richmond Hill preparing to speak to fourth-graders about where they come from, how life there differs from America and how it is similar.
In Room 410, Brown showed the class pictures of the house he grew up in and the school he attended. Next door, Park spoke to another class about Korean food and taught the students to write in Korean characters. Across the hall, Uanini pointed out some notable fellow Argentines including Pope Francis, Eva Peron and, to the soccer-loving class’ excitement, Lionel Messi.
The five visited the school as part of International Education Week, an annual cultural exchange program run by Cultural Vistas in a joint initiative with the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Education. The program, which is in its fifth year, aims to promote international understanding by encouraging the development of programs that prepare Americans to live and work in a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experience in the United States.
PS 254, along with another school in Brooklyn, took part in Friday’s event. The school was chosen in part because fourth-grade teacher Stephanie Crist had a personal connection with Cultural Vistas through a friend.
“I thought it would be a great thing to bring to the school,” Crist said. “The students get to meet someone from very far away and share in a different culture they may otherwise not know about.”
The five visitors are all working or attending school in the United States — Brown works in finance, for example, while Uanini is in America to study computer science.
At the end of each presentation, the students took time to ask questions about life in their home countries.
As Park spelled out a student’s name in Korean, another student attempted to spell hers using the chart Park showed the class.
Next door, students asked Brown about living near animals like saltwater crocodiles and koala bears. And when Brown spoke about the Australian Aboriginal people, one student raised his hand to add a pointer about how he remembers they were on the continent before the Europeans.
“I know that because the word original is in aboriginal,” one student said.
Brown and the student’s teacher Ivette McCarthy, herself married to an Australian Aborigine, stood in shock.
“I’m so proud that he knew that,” his teacher said.
SunJeong Lee, client relationship manager for Cultural Vistas, said that although the visits happen annually during International Education Week, the group came to PS 254 last May and may be interested in holding he cultural exchanges more often.