BRANSON, MO– On Monday, August 1, Mayor Karen Best addressed a crowd of 230 J-Day attendees to not only thank the J-1 community for spending their summer vacations in Branson, but also to award Certificates of Achievement to the specially selected J-Day Ambassadors.
Under the motto “Eat Play Give,” J-Day merges service with celebration. Before the J-Day party commenced at Moonshine Beach, 10 J-Day Ambassadors participated in CENET’s Culture in the Community (CITC) program. CITC is an initiative that brings authentic international education to area groups and schools, with a special emphasis on low-income and undeserved schools and communities.
Through CITC, the J-Day Ambassadors spent the morning sharing their cultures with children ages 4-12 at the Ozark Mountain Family YMCA.
The program began with a skit involving would-be tourists attempting to embark on a trip around the world, only to find they have arrived at the YMCA and not the airport. The Griswold-esque couple urges the children to learn as much about each country as possible, so they may report the information back to them.
The J-Day Ambassadors were set up in country stations and the children rotated “around the world” in small groups to learn about each country. The stops included China, Dominican Republic, Ukraine, Turkey, Jamaica, India, Bangladesh, and a map station. The children sampled authentic foods from each country; they also enjoyed photos, postcards, traditional clothing, currency, music, dance, and other cultural selections made by the J-Day Ambassadors.
Senator Blunt sent two office representatives to the Culture in the Community segment: Joelle Cannon, District Office Director (Springfield, MO) and Richard Eddings, Scheduler (Washington, D.C.). Both were able to meet the J-Day Ambassadors and visit their country stations.
It was an honor to spend time with the J-1 Ambassadors and watch local youth learn first-hand about different cultures across the world. Culture in the Community is an exciting CENET initiative and we really enjoyed being part of the celebration of these great students!
-Joelle Cannon, Office of U.S. Senator Roy Blunt
In addition, Senator McCaskill’s District Office Director, David Stokeley, was able to join the J-Day celebration and congratulate the J-Day Ambassadors honored by Mayor Best. David Stokeley also met with J-1 host employers, various J-1 participants, and a 7-year old boy who attended the CITC morning session.
Senator McCaskill, Senator Blunt, Mayor Best, and Ozark Mountain Family YMCA took to social media to support J-Day and the applaud the J-Day Ambassadors:
Mayor Best presented Certificates of Achievement to the J-Day Ambassadors:
- Yerlin De La Cruz
- Yiwen Cao
- Rushanda Pitt
- Emelisa Norberto Cisnero
- Akash Patel
- Berna Gulen
- Berda Akar
- Chuting Pi
- Valeriia Zahorska
- Ayesha Kadri, CENET Staff Ambassador
The J-Day Ambassadors reported positive feedback about the CITC service event. A few of the J-Day Ambassador’s responses are included below.
Yerlin, J-Day Ambassador:
I enjoyed participating in Culture in the Community too much. It is important to share my culture because other people can know about it and be interested in visiting my country. I see value in teaching children about other countries. The children showed interest when we talked about our cultures and they listened and asked questions about it. Participating in Culture in the Community is a valuable opportunity for J-1 participants. I think the program is excellent and it was a pleasure. I’m so proud to be part of this amazing experience. I enjoyed sharing with the kids and teaching them about my culture. Thank you!
Emelisa, J-Day Ambassador:
I enjoyed participating in Culture in the Community a lot. Sharing cultures is extremely important because as you share something about your country, other people may be interested in learning more and visiting. It’s very valuable to teach children about other cultures. With this group, I was impressed to see the children paying attention and showing concern by asking us questions about the differences between our meals, moneys, birds, and more. It is a great opportunity for J-1 participants. I am very grateful and happy to have been selected to participate in this great activity where I could meet those wonderful children.
Chuting, J-Day Ambassador:
I think participating in Culture in the Community is my precious experience in America. I really enjoyed it. It is important to share cultures. I am proud of my country and I love my culture. I want others to have correct understanding about my country. Introducing Chinese culture may let them visit China one day, seeing what I see. There is value teaching children about cultures because children have a strong acceptance ability. Teaching them about other cultures can broaden their horizons. The children with whom I shared my culture with have strong curiosity and respect for other cultures. They listened to me carefully and asked me what they wanted to know. I think every J-1 participant desires to have such a wonderful chance to participate in Culture in the Community. CENET should choose even more countries and participants to represent their countries!
Akash, J-Day Ambassador:
I enjoyed participating in Culture in the Community a lot. It is important to share my culture so the new generation will know how there are the different cultures in the world going on and they can meet new people of different cultures. That can also help them when they meet new people. I see value in teaching children about other cultures and my impression of the children was good. It’s absolutely valuable for CENET to extend this kind of opportunity for more J-1 participants. I would like to thank CENET wholeheartedly for giving me this opportunity and allowing me to be a participant as a J Day Ambassador! If CENET needs any kind of help from me to promote this program, I would appreciate doing so.
Ayesha Kadri, CENET Staff Ambassador:
As a staff member at CENET and as an international student from Bangladesh, I had a spectacular time participating in Culture in the Community and showing the YMCA students my culture.
I believe it’s very important to not only share my culture, but also to learn about other cultures as well. Often, individuals may not have the means necessary to be exposed to different cultural backgrounds and activities. For me, it’s important to participate in Culture in the Community, as young students may have never heard of Bangladesh, let alone be familiar with its culture. A small hint of knowledge or information can be the spark that ignites a whole new world for young individuals!
I see immense value in teaching children about other countries and cultures. Oftentimes, children may learn opposing views or wrong information about a different culture. This may lead to stereotypes and doubts when meeting an individual from that respective culture. By teaching children about other cultures, we are giving them a platform to be curious, to ask questions, and to learn while being exposed to a different culture in a fun and safe environment.
I’ve participated in countless Culture in the Community presentations, but this by far my favorite. The children all seemed very eager to learn about all the different counties. They were excited to try to new snacks and see the differences represented by each country. To see them be so accepting and happy about learning filled me with pride in what I do, as a CENET staff member and as an international individual.
I believe it’s very valuable for CENET to extend this opportunity to more J-1 participants. I remember hearing many J-1 participants state that they were eager to share their culture with others, especially with children who were so eager to learn! This activity promotes an engagement that goes well beyond learning through textbooks and the internet. It’s hands-on; the children can see, feel, taste, and hear – giving them a true experience for their senses and meeting varying learning styles.
Thank you to our wonderful J-Day Ambassadors for their commitment to increased global knowledge and greater cultural understanding. Special thanks to the following: the J-1 host employers for adjusting schedules for the J-Day Ambassadors; Ozark Mountain Family YMCA for hosting CITC; CENET’s Branson Coordinator, Abigail Palmer, for arranging transportation for the J-Day Ambassadors; CENET staff member, Ayesha Kadri, for sharing her culture as a Staff Ambassador; community advocates and CENET support staff, Rick & Debra Chastain, for serving as zany, lost tourists in the skit; Mayor Karen Best for presenting awards to the J-Day Ambassadors; and lastly, thank you to the offices of U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill and U.S. Senator Roy Blunt for supporting J-Day and J-1 exchanges.