The Foreign Lands Ambassador Group (FLAG), organized by the Office of International Students, Scholars, and Programs, gives international as well as returned study abroad students the opportunity to share their knowledge of other countries and cultures with local elementary school children. In doing so, the program promotes international education, nurtures multi-cultural understanding and friendship, and strengthens the connection between William & Mary students and the local community.
Owing to the dedication and support of Rawls Byrd Elementary’s Library Media Specialist Vaudene “Viky” Pedigo and ISSP staff, the program has blossomed into exchanges that allow W&M Foreign Lands Ambassadors to share folktales, pictures, songs, and other cultural interests with children in an open and friendly environment. Not only does the FLAG program support the Virginia Standard of Learning: Global Learning which strives to assist students in becoming informed global participants, but under Ms. Pedigo’s enthusiastic encouragement it also allows everyone involved to enjoy and understand more of each other’s cultures. In the words of one Rawls Byrd student, W&M Foreign Lands Ambassadors “are special gifts to our school!”
In fall 2011, Rawls Byrd Elementary hosted five FLAG ambassadors from China, Japan, Jordan, and the United Kingdom. Each of these W&M students shared an aspect of culture with Rawls Byrd students, including flags and symbols, history, clothing, art, folktales, sports, and cuisine.
Lana Hill, an exchange student from the United Kingdom, flashed landmarks of interest on the large screen, as well as famous personalities including the Royal Family and Harry Potter. She explained the flag of Great Britain – the Union Jack – and how it combines the countries of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. Understanding the flag’s design, the students made copies for themselves.
Al-Sharif Musab Al-Barakait of Jordan shared a power point of his country highlighting the historic ruins of the fortress-like town of Petra, built of pink stone by the Nabatean people who came from the desert in the 6th Century BC. He pointed out the Dead Sea, whose shore is the lowest point on earth at 1,300 feet below sea level. He stressed the importance of education to Jordanians whose schools are in session year round with a month’s vacation two times a year. Musab also wrote his name in Arabic, and reminded the students that the numerals they write are Arabic. He brought several objects of interest, including his prayer rug and red and white keffiyeh, the traditional Arab headdress worn by men, usually fashioned from a cotton square.
After Riho Terayama introduced her country, Japan, she discussed and demonstrated the ancient Japanese art of origami. The students were familiar with the story of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, about a child with leukemia who hoped to fold one thousand cranes to make her wish to wellness come true. She passed away before she could finish, but her classmates completed the project to honor her memory. Today, brightly colored origami cranes have become a symbol of peace for people around the world. After the students successfully folded the crane, Riho shared instructions on folding origami frogs and boats.
Hao Shi from China amazed the students with his eye-hand coordination, fast reflexes, and hand control through the manipulations of chopsticks, nunchaku, and string. The students knew some chopstick lore, but were fascinated with new facts such as their being in use since the 3rd century and learning a magic trick of breaking a chopstick with a single sheet of paper. Hao’s dexterity with the nunchaku, known to us from martial arts films as nun-chucks, was amazing. His training has been noted to increase hand speed, correct posture, and improve reflexes and hand control. Freestyle displays in competition are common in China today.
Rong Wang from China served bubble tea or “pearl milk tea” which originated in tea shops in Taichung City, Taiwan during the 1980s. The tea contained small, chewy balls made of tapioca starch known as “pearls.” Turkish Delight, a favorite sweet from fairy tales, was served to accompany the tea. As the student savored their treats, Rong spoke with each student as she demonstrated the art of calligraphy in writing the student’s name and interpreting the characters’ qualities and personality characteristics, such as peaceful, successful, loyal, clever and adventurous.