Students take global journey during Multicultural Day

On Wednesday, the students of Sycamore School traveled around the world. The journey, which took kids to locations as far-flung as France, Bolivia and the Philippines, came courtesy of the Claremont elementary school’s 39th annual International/Multicultural Day.

The event began with an opening ceremony, in which the day’s presenters took to the stage, some of them wearing the traditional garb of nations like Nepal, Korea and India.

“This is all about celebrating people around the world,” Sycamore Principal Amy Stanger said during her introductory remarks.

Next up was a performance by four members of the Pomona College gamelan, an orchestra devoted to playing the traditional music of Indonesia. The students seated on the floor of the school’s multipurpose room had been buzzing with anticipation. As the orchestra played songs like “Peacock Looking in a Mirror,” however, the students grew hushed, relishing the hypnotic, metal-raindrop sound of the gangsa or Indonesian xylophone.

One of the gamelan members, Harvey Mudd College music professor Bill Alves, has two kids, one in college and another at Claremont High School, who attended Sycamore school. He really enjoys the opportunity to return to his children’s alma mater.

“I think it’s a terrific opportunity for kids,” he said. “They get to learn about so much they don’t get in the regular curriculum.”

As the students, visiting parents and other guests departed for a tour of the dozen nation-themed classroom with “passports” dangling from their necks, the day’s lesson was anything but dull.

In Room 2, there was a touch of Bollywood as students learned to dance, Indian-style. The ongoing presentation, hosted by Sycamore parent Mohini Paliwal and her nephew Shikha Paliwal, also included refreshments in the form of savory samosas and a sweet gourd dessert washed down with mango juice.

Ms. Paliwal, who was wearing an ornate sari, bangles and a delicate gold ring through her nose, took the time to decorate students’ hands with Henna paint.

It is a pleasure to introduce kids to the Indian culture, which has many strengths, according to Mr. Paliwal, a student at Keck Graduate Institute.

“It is culturally very rich,” he said. “There are at least 300 different languages and 30 distinct cultures.”

Mr. Paliwal believes that being exposed to so many cultures “builds very diverse minds.” He said if students are exposed to an array of cultures, they will find it easy to adapt to any environment, a valuable trait in the workplace and beyond.

If Mr. Paliwal’s emphasis was on the cultivation of the students’ minds, a presentation on Nepal given by several Pitzer students was about care of the soul. Each of the day’s three 45-minute presentations began with the burning of incense, the ringing of a brass singing bowl and the tendering of a prayer and offering to the god of wisdom.

Students learned to bow to one another, hands steeped, and say namaste or hello, to eat rice pudding with their hands and to write a word in the flowing Nepalese script.

Each of the Pitzer students had studied abroad in Nepal, living with a Nepalese family and learning the language. It was an unforgettable experience, according to Keiko Budech, a Pitzer senior majoring in environmental policy.

“I’ve never been in a really religious culture like that,” she shared. “The mountains, of course, are beautiful. And the people have this incredible sense of community. In the house where I stayed, there were 10 people living together, all brothers and sisters.

“Everyone is very friendly,” she continued. “They all farm together collectively and know their neighbors really well.”

In “Japan,” also known as Room 1, students learned about the kimono, Aikido and the joys of Japanese food. When we caught up with 11-year-old David Crigler, he was enjoying a plate of noodles and soybeans.

David looks forward to International/Multicultural Day every year.

“I like to learn about different cultures, how people live—yeah, I love it,” he said. “You can meet other people and learn other languages. You can learn what their beliefs are, what kind of food they eat and how they live.”

Another Asian nation represented at the daylong festival was Korea. Stationed outside of Room 3, Grace Moon and Ti Yeon Kim, both the mothers of Sycamore students, cooked the Korean beef dish bulgogi along with steamed rice. Meanwhile, Heidi Park, wearing a colorful silk gown, taught visitors to draw an iris using the traditional ink-ando-brush-technique.

“It’s very good for my kids,” Ms. Moon said. “They always look forward to this day. I think they are proud to be Korean.”

National pride was also evident in rooms devoted to France, where students learned to make sounds unique to the French language; to Germany, where guests enjoyed sausage and gummy bears and learned about the country’s rich automotive history; and in Brazil, where kids donned handmade feathered headbands and had their faces painted in the style of the country’s aboriginal tribes.

In Room 9, Amy Massie and her mother, Kristin Conway Gomez, who are Bolivian, presented on their native country. The students learned about Bolivia’s volatile political history and dined on delicacies like meat pies and mochochinchi, a sweet, light beverage consisting of water, dehydrated peaches, cinammon and cloves.

Mrs. Massie’s husband, Chris, was helping dish out the goodies. He has been fortunate to be exposed to the Bolivia through his wife and mother-in-law.

“I’m amazed by how grand and vast the country is,” he said. “They have so many natural resources and they’re surrounded by 20,000-plus-foot peaks. It feels big.”

The world, by contrast, has grown smaller for Sycamore’s students thanks to the annual multicultural extravaganza.

“Each year, I am reminded of how resilient, thoughtful and creative people are, and how much we need one another,” Ms. Stanger said.

—Sarah Torribio


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