World Language Club holds successful Culture Fair

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Tolland - posted Mon., Oct. 7, 2013
Madalyn Jurgensmier displays a Chinese fan at the Tolland High School World Language Club's Culture Fair on Oct. 4. Photos by Steve Smith.
Madalyn Jurgensmier displays a Chinese fan at the Tolland High School World Language Club's Culture Fair on Oct. 4. Photos by Steve Smith.

Tolland High School’s World Language Club co-presidents Genna Hoyt and Aiyla Zahid wanted to create an event that would help educate their peers in the community about other cultures. During the process of putting together the group’s Culture Fair, the two were pleasantly surprised to find that Tolland already has a wider range of diversity than they thought.

“We really wanted to do something to impact our community,” Zahid said.

“We originally wanted to do something to spread diversity and encourage cultural awareness for people of all ages, especially kids,” Hoyt said. “We needed all the helpers we could get, so we spread out to the whole school, and not just the language club. Everyone started contributing ideas, and we soon realized that our school is a lot more diverse than we thought it was. We thought that was so cool, and we wanted people from Tolland and surrounding towns to know that as well.”

About 100 people turned out at the group’s Culture Fair, held outside at Birch Grove Elementary School on Oct. 4, and visited booths representing a dozen countries. Students created signs and posters, gathered artifacts from their booths’ respective countries, and prepared food items from around the world (the authentic Mexican gorditas were a big hit).

Visiting children were able to “travel around the world,” and earned stickers at each booth, which were placed on their “passport.”

Ramsha Khan, from Berlin, came to help her cousin run the display of Pakistani culture and food. “We have samosas, which are pastries filled with spicy potatoes, chicken, or all veggies,” she said. “We have yogurt to eat with it, because it can be really spicy.”

Khan said she was born in Pakistan, so it was easy to bring many items from her family’s home to display.

Robert Chiang and his wife, Vicki, had traveled to Taiwan over the summer with their daughter, Alicia, a THS freshman; and the family was giving lectures about Taiwan at their booth, which was decorated with a lot of Alicia’s drawings of Taiwanese buildings, landscapes and people.

Chiang explained that Taiwan is an island the size of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but home to 23 million people.

“There is a lot of shared culture between Taiwan and China,” he said. “Politically, one is democratic and one is communist. That’s pretty much the difference. It’s pretty warm – it can be 100 for most of the summertime, since it’s in the sub-tropics.”

There were also demonstrations, including a hands-on drum circle, Irish Step Dancing, Kung Fu, and Marimba and Salsa dancing.  Children could also make crafts, including jewelry-making and origami, in the school’s cafeteria.

Zahid and Hoyt said they toyed with the idea of an international fashion show, but thought that would appeal too one-sidedly to females, and decided on a culture fair. There were road bumps along the way, including a postponement of the event, originally slated for last spring, but the group stuck to deadlines for putting together pieces of the separate project, and did the legwork of raising funds and food donations from local restaurants. They also lucked out with some perfect early fall weather for the event.

“In Tolland, we’ve grown up with the stereotype that it’s a predominantly Caucasian town, and there isn’t much culture,” Zahid said. “It’s really cool to see that so many people are interested in different cultures, and that so many are from so many different cultures here.”

“We really encourage younger kids to travel, and learn about other places besides Connecticut,” Hoyt said.

While Hoyt and Zahid will both be graduating, they said they hope the World Language Club makes the Culture Fair an annual event. “We really hope whoever does it next year, continues it,” Zahid said.

“If we do it next year, I think we’d accumulate more people, because more know about it now,” Hoyt said.

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