Kokomo High School student share world cultures at International Festival

Kokomo High School student share world cultures at International Festival
Kokomo High School student share world cultures at International Festival

            Kokomo High School sophomore Maria Alkhouri stood in the center of the old gymnasium at KHS, donning a traditional Syrian hat, and recited, in Arabic, Damascus, What Are You Doing to Me? by Nizar Qabbani.

Translated to English, the poem has a section that reads:

The Damascene House
Is beyond the architectural text
The design of our homes....
Is based on an emotional foundation
For every house leans… on the hip of another
And every balcony…
Extends its hand to another facing it
Damascene houses are loving houses…
They greet one another in the morning…
And exchange visits…
Secretly – at night…  

            When she finished reciting the poem by one of the most renowned poets of the Arab world, Maria removed her hat and donned a Spanish skirt for her next performance at the Kokomo High School International Festival.

            Maria joined a handful of her classmates as they performed Las Sevillanas, a typical type of Spanish folk music and dance that originated in the southern part of Spain… specifically Seville, the capital of Andalusia.

            “I didn’t have time to learn the whole dance, but it was fun,” Maria remarked. “I am learning Spanish now, and I chose to perform this dance because I wanted to learn something new about the Spanish culture.”

            KHS senior Aaryan Morrison has performed Las Sevillanas for the past three years at the International Festival. Aaryan learned the dance from her Spanish teacher during her sophomore year, and has been carrying on the tradition ever since by teaching the dance to new students in her Spanish classes. As a competitive dancer, Aaryan loves that this dance combines her technical training with her passion for learning about other cultures.

            “This is an opportunity to perform a different type of dance,” Aaryan explained. “I have fun doing it. This traditional Spanish dance combines flamenco with gypsy traditions. The music is more upbeat than traditional flamenco.”

            This school year, Kokomo High School celebrated its fifth International Festival. More than 50 countries were represented at the Fall 2017 festival, including Australia, Spain, China, Cuba, Egypt, Japan, Brazil, Togo, Syria, Canada, Germany, Albania, Vietnam, Jamaica, and Niger among others.
KHS International Festival

Each of Kokomo High School’s international students (more than 50) participated in the festival in some way. Additionally, English 9 International Baccalaureate students at KHS researched countries and produced a research paper, presentation board, activity relating to that country, and a stamp for passports that they showed off during the festival. Many dressed in the traditional clothing of their countries and showcased artifacts from those countries.

            The Kokomo Area Career Center Culinary Arts students sold their international creations, which included Brazilian cheese bread, Brazilian cornmeal cakes, Polish coffee cake, Chinese stir fry, and Spanish aqua fresca infused with honeydew.

            Julia Aleixo, an International student from Brazil, is enrolled in the Culinary Arts classes at the Kokomo Area Career Center. When she learned that she would have an opportunity to share some Brazilian recipes, she was so excited she started jumping up and down.

            “I have really missed the food from home,” Julia explained.

            As Julia’s class made Brazilian cheese bread and Brazilian cornmeal cakes for the first time, the Brazilian student began to cry. The cornmeal cakes made her especially homesick.

            “I remember my mom making these cakes at home… the smell filling our house… and my mom telling me, ‘Julia, do your homework,’” Julia explained.

            Before the end of the International Festival, the culinary arts classes had run out of all food.

            KHS Band Director John Pinson, who developed the International Festival, is not surprised. Mr. Pinson explained that the festival food is always popular among students, staff, and community members.

            “That makes sense because the best ways to learn about a culture are by eating their foods and listening to their music,” Mr. Pinson added. “Personally, I love seeing the folk dancing at our festival.”

            Kokomo High School student groups performed poetry, musical selections, and dances throughout the day. These performances represented many cultures, including Chinese, German, Spanish, Syrian, Albanian, and African.

            Meanwhile, students from KHS, and Kokomo Schools elementary and middle schools, visited the festival’s various booths to learn about other countries and cultures. At the booth for China, several International students from the Asian country shared their experiences, while teaching students how to use chopsticks and writing student names using Chinese characters.

At the display for Togo, Abrah Dzaye, a KHS senior, enthusiastically shared information about the west African nation she once called home. Students could sample a rice dish from the country, or learn about fashion in Togo.

“I love talking about my country during  the International Festival,” Abrah said. “I love Africa, and am proud to be from Togo.”

On hand to help Abrah discuss Togo was Abrah’s friend, Abby Higgins, also a senior at KHS. Abby, like Abrah, was wearing the traditional clothing of Togo.

“I have learned so much about Togo, and what it is like to live there,” Abby noted. “People think Africa is made up of small tribes and villages, but Togo has big cities with buildings that are more modern than ours. I love the music style of Togo. I’ve also learned that Abrah and I are the same, even though she is from Togo, and I am from Kokomo, Indiana.”

KHS IB English Teacher Leslie Lewis said the International Festival fits in well with the ideals of the International Baccalaureate program.

“The festival serves as a way for our IB students to connect with our elementary and middle school students and with the community, while showcasing the talents and cultures of our International students,” Ms. Lewis concluded.


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