Opinion: International Day Gives Students a New Perspective

By: Julius Sim ’16
Staff Writer

International Awareness Day is a day in which students and faculty come together to share and celebrate the different cultures that make up the community.

Continuing a tradition started nearly 20 years ago, the 10th International Awareness Day was held on March 25.

“Coming from Korea, the large majority of my cultural background has been shaped by my home country, as well as neighboring countries such as China and Japan,” Eugene Chang ’16 said. “Through International Awareness Day, I was able to get a glimpse of cultures totally different from mine and that I’ve never taken the time to appreciate.”

The history of the International Awareness Day dates back to 1995. It was started by the former Language Department Chair Ann-Marie Gustavson, who brought the event to Peddie after holding a similar event at her old school in Ohio. Since then, the event has been held every other year, and has continued to grow and expand ever since. This year, the event was organized by Jose Ruiz, the current language department chair.

“It was my first time organizing the event, because it happens [once every two years] and I took over as the department chair only last year,” Ruiz said. “I had the help of Doc Martin (former chair of language department) who had organized it two times, as well as the other members of the language department, so it was not a struggle thanks to their help.”

This year the event hosted over 45 different sessions, representing cultures from over 30 different countries, with sessions including presentations on Cuba, West Africa and China. The organization process itself begins several months before International Awareness Day.

“I first emailed teachers ahead of time, asking for prospective presenters, and a few students got into contact as well,” Mr. Ruiz said. “I took that list and then started working with Doc Martin and the other teachers. We used a program to organize the presenters into their respective sessions.”

The International Student Organization, colloquially referred to as the “ISO”, also played a role in organizing this year’s International Awareness Day. Members of the club performed at the beginning of the event, including the ISO Fashion show, which highlighted the different traditional costumes of countries around the world.

“Although Peddie isn’t an international school, we have a very diverse community here, and our goal was to share that diversity by helping out,” Jason Park, head of the ISO, said. “This year, we were able to coordinate our efforts with Mr. Ruiz and other teachers in the department.”

Members of the fashion show also commented on how successfully the fashion show went.

“I was not expecting the show to go over as well as it did,” Kavita Oza ’14 said. “We all had a great time showing off our cultures to the community while they cheered us on.”

Even after organizing presenters, the process is still not over. This year, online registration was used to help students sign up for the sessions.

“Only about 300 students or so signed up this year using the program, meaning that almost half the school didn’t sign up at all,” Ruiz said. “That meant that we had to spend extra time assigning student to different classes, which ended up being difficult logistically.”

Kevin Brown, science teacher, was asked by Ruiz to present at International Awareness Day.

“In 2006 I worked as a zookeeper in Atlanta taking care of elephants and wild cats, which I really liked,” Brown said. “So in 2009 I had the chance to go to Namibia and actually see [elephants] in the wild outside because of a grant from Peddie. I originally hadn’t planned on giving the presentation, but Mr. Ruiz came to me and asked me if there was something I could do, so I gave my presentation on Africa.”

“Students need to be aware of the different perspectives and ways to live life, and the best way to do that is to know the cultures of different places, and to respect them,” Ruiz said. “In today’s world, it’s impossible to ignore other cultures, because we don’t have frontiers anymore- we have no lines that divide countries. That was the main goal for the entire day; if at least one student walked away with an understanding and respect for another country, then it was worth it.”