The International Involvement Center hosted its annual International Education Week Nov. 12-15 with lectures, panels and a showcase.
International Student and Scholar Services Coordinator Ashley Henggeler said the goal of the week is to celebrate the benefits of international education and cultural exchange.
“The idea is to promote programs that prepare students for a global economy and encourage students to study abroad, promote diversity and inclusion,” Henggeler said.
The week was kicked off with Emmanuel Ngomsi’s “Breaking Cultural Barriers and Building Cultural Bridges” lecture Monday evening in the Charles Johnson Theater.
Ngomsi spent nine years as instructor, cross-cultural and chief-language coordinator for the United States Peace Corps in Cameroon and now works to educate Americans about West African cultures and facilitate civility and understanding between Americans and other cultures.
Ngomsi formerly served as curriculum coordinator of international studies with the Kansas City, Missouri school district. His experiences in the position inspired his lecture.
Although Ngomsi has worked in France, Germany and his native Cameroon, Ngomsi said had never experienced the culture shock he felt during his time in Kansas City, Missouri.
His stories of misunderstanding included accidentally giving the middle finger to third graders, losing a friendship with another teacher because she shared news of her pregnancy with him and eventually being fired after giving another teacher a weight loss book as a birthday gift.
Ngomsi emphasized that in all of the situations, no one had the intention of harm, but a lack of cultural understanding led to negative outcomes.
“The solution to intercultural miscommunication is education,” Ngomsi said.
Ngomsi presented a metaphor of a tree, with the trunk and branches being the surface of culture: language, food, music, dance and art, and the roots of the tree being the driving force behind the surface-level culture: values, traditions and beliefs.
Coordinator of Diversity and Inclusion Adam Gonzales said everyone could take something away from Ngomsi’s lecture.
“Dr. Ngomsi’s lecture touched on a topic of universal significance in communities where diversity and its expression are often misunderstood,” Gonzales said. “His talk reminded us that language, actions, and symbols are not always the same from culture to culture and that asking questions can be a great way to increase cultural understanding and competency.”
Wednesday’s first event was the “Around the World Showcase” in the J.W. Jones Student Union Ballroom. The showcase featured presentations and performances representing Curacao, Saba, South Korea, Nepal, Nigeria, France, Morocco, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Junior Chesney Thielman represented his native island of Saba as well as Curacao, both of which are in the Caribbean. Saba is the smallest municipality of the Netherlands, consisting of only five square miles of land.
Theilman said he wanted to represent Saba because although it’s a small island, it is a beautiful place to live or visit.
“People have been really interested in it, some people have traveled through the Caribbean and passed nearby,” Thielman said. “We have the world’s shortest runway, but the big tourist attractions are diving, hiking, fishing and carnival.”
Ourami Zinbi, an exchange student from Al Akhamayan University, represented Morocco--a North African country south of Spain--at the showcase. Zinbi described Morocco as a great introduction to African and Middle-Eastern cultures for Americans because it still has the European familiarity.
“In Morocco, you find the influence of the Middle East with the luxury of Europe,” Zinbi said. “You can find mosques, and you can find nightclubs.”
Zinbi said the exchange program with Al Akhamayan University is a great opportunity for Northwest students not only because they can experience African, Middle-Eastern and European cultures in one place, but also because many Americans miss out on a rich culture when they judge Arab countries based on stereotypes.
The second event Wednesday was the annual “Africa is Not A Country” panel in the J.W. Jones Student Union Tower View Dining Room. African Student Organization President Hiba Mahgoub said the goal of the event is to educate the Northwest community about African cultures.
“The event was there to crush any stereotypes that people may have and to show that Africa is not a country: there is not one language that is spoken there, there is not a sample food of African and there is not a certain type of people who live there,” Mahgoub said. “This event to show the large number of cultures, people, languages, religions, and environments of Africa.”
Mahgoub said the turnout last year was huge, but there were many questions the panelists did not have time to answer. She said the goal of the panel this year was to answer all the audience questions.
The final event of the week is the “Sex Workers and Toxic Charity” presentation 7 p.m. Thursday in the J.W. Jones Student Union Ballroom. The event, hosted by Political Science Professor Brian Hesse and emergency and disaster management major Madison Atwell, will discuss international efforts to change the lives and circumstances of sex workers.
"Maddy and I will focus on individuals we know in Kenya who have been internally-displaced, often due to political violence,” Hesse said. “We will introduce the audience to these friends and acquaintances in a 'three dimensional way,' focusing less on the fact that some are commercial sex workers and more on who they are and the contexts in which they live. We will also offer some thoughts about how charity meant 'to help' can be quite toxic -- unless it is done with families' and communities' input and ownership."