The University of Iowa

Holidays get international

December 21st, 2010

By Lee Hermiston, The Press-Citizen.

Gifts, trees and Santa Claus — most, if not all, children across the country know about holiday traditions in America.

But what about other countries across the globe?

Seventh-grade students at North Central Junior High in North Liberty got a lesson in holiday celebrations in other countries Monday, courtesy of several University of Iowa students. A half dozen UI students gave presentations on holidays in their home countries, which included Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, China and Malaysia.

The presentations were part of the International Classroom Journey program, an outreach program offered to K-12 students through UI International Programs.

Karen Wachsmuth, outreach coordinator for International Programs, said allowing students to meet people from other countries and cultures is beneficial.

“They get a firsthand look at representatives from other cultures,” Wachsmuth said. “It prepares them to be better global citizens. It helps to develop an interest in other cultures and global issues.”

Among the presenters was Berhan Gelan of Ethiopia, who spoke about New Year celebrations in her country. Because Ethiopia operates on a different calendar than America and much of the world, it actually is 2003 in the east ern African country. New Years’ is celebrated in September, Gelan said.

“The new year falls in the spring time,” she said. “The lands are filled with yellow flowers. It’s very beautiful.”

Gelan said Ethiopians celebrate with feasting and dancing.

“It brings the world into the classroom in an easy and meaningful way.”

Families also reach out to the impoverished to provide them food. Galen said groups of girls also travel through the neighborhood and sing for neighbors; boys draw pictures of iconic religious figures to give to neighbors. The children are often rewarded with candy for their efforts; a rare treat, Gelan said.

“Sweets are not easily found in Ethiopia,” said Gelan, who also played traditional Ethiopian music and demonstrated traditional dance moves. “The small variety we have are used for Easter, Christmas and New Year.”

Gelan, who moved from Ethiopia’s capitol to America a year ago, said she continues to be amazed by the United States. She said she is astonished by the diverse weather and the level of gift-giving associated with the holidays.

Global Studies teacher Alisa Meggitt said the International Classroom Journey program helps drive home the lessons about other countries she tries to impress on her students.

“It brings the world into the classroom in an easy and meaningful way,” she said.