By Drew Taylor / Staff Writer
Wearing traditional Chinese garb and a panda hat, Jing Li stood Friday in the middle of a circle of intrigued students from University Place Elementary School.
As the students watched, Li began to spin, kick and softly move across the floor, performing different martial art forms, such as tai chi and changquan.
In the midst of her performance, Li stopped.
“You want to see more?” Li asked.
“Yeah,” the group shouted with excitement.
Li’s performance was one part of a showcase at the school Friday morning that included representatives from 16 different countries to commemorate International Education Week. The showcase, which was organized between the school and the English Language Institute at the University of Alabama, was called “World Friends Day” and included people explaining their cultures and what makes their country unique.
“We want all of our students to have some kind of experience with all cultures,” said Patsy McGahey, science, technology, engineering and mathematics director at University Place. “We want them to be global citizens.”
The forum was organized after Monica Hollie, a receptionist at ELI and a parent of two students at University Place, approached the school about holding an international forum there. ELI works with University of Alabama students who come from across the globe in improving their English skills. The group normally holds forums at different schools throughout the year to teach children about different cultures.
Hollie said that as much as the forum is for the children, it also helps out the ELI fellows.
“Their first language is not English, and they are here to improve their skills in that area,” Hollie said.
Zion Doughty, a third-grader at University Place, said he liked learning about different countries, such as Jordan.
“It seems really cool,” Doughty said.
McGahey said that University Place has many students who live at or below the poverty level, and they may not have had a chance to see the world or understand how other people live in the world.
“By exposing them to other countries, it broadens their experience to what they can do later in life,” she said.
Hollie said that more than just exposure to cultures, forums like the one on Friday help children relate to others in the world, in addition to making people from other cultures feel like they are understood in the process.
“Sometimes, it can be their first time to come to the U.S.,” Hollie said. “It makes it easier for them to know that a few Americans are eager to learn, not quick to criticize.”