There is an extensive spread of containers and plates that sport dumplings, sushi, dips, pastas, meatballs, rice and many other international foods. A carved up turkey sits on a grand plate in the center of it all. Students bustle and buzz around the display, loading all sorts of foods from different countries onto their plates.
Events such as International Thanksgiving help to incorporate international students into everyday life at the high school and into American culture in general. A unique support system of English Language Learners (ELL) teachers and International Student Ambassadors help to guide their way.
Senior Cyprien Besin, a member of the Ambassadors, explained that one of the main aspects of being an International Student Ambassador is making yourself available and present for the international students.
“I came here sophomore year from France, and I was really nervous. During my first week I didn’t know where to go; the building is huge. So I imagine it’s really a stressful time for them,” Besin said. “But we are here to help them. If they see us in the hallway, they can ask questions if they wonder about anything.”
According to Besin, a lasting tradition at the International Thanksgiving is a large decorated board in the middle of the room. Students can go up to it as they please to write down what it is that they are thankful for.
“People even write ‘Being here.’ That’s an awesome opportunity. But it’s really about being all together, knowing we’re all coming from different countries. We’re like the international community within the school,” Besin said.
Senior Carolin Brigl, another member of the Ambassadors, described the International Thanksgiving as one of the many events the Ambassadors hosts that helps to bring all students together. Throughout the years, there have also been apple picking trips and orientations to teach the students more about the high school.
“The reason I’m an Ambassador is because I moved to America when I was little. So my family didn’t know what Thanksgiving was at all. And it’s like that with a lot of our kids and so it’s a cool way for us to celebrate it all together, introduce them to a very American holiday,” Brigl said.
Junior Youjeong Kim, an international student from Korea, described her first day at the high school, in October, as tough and confusing due to lack of familiar faces and the challenge of joining in with new social groups. She said that ELL teachers and classes helped her to grow and become more comfortable in the new environment.
This year she attended the International Thanksgiving and said she was met with a delightfully positive outcome.
“It was very cool because I can share many cultures from many different countries. More international students are there that I don’t know. And I can enjoy many songs from their own countries. Like Spanish songs or Chinese songs,” Kim said, “I wasn’t really nervous about it, I was just enjoying it.”
According to ELL teacher Katya Babitskaya, this event is important to her because it’s interesting to see the way in which the students interact with each other outside of their peer groups at school. Often times, they will share things that the love like music, performances, and food.
“They dance, sing karaoke, sometimes in different languages. Some songs always come up, like ‘Gangnam Style.’ It’s been popular for so many years,” Babitskaya said. “And we get some songs from their cultures. It’s great to see kids interacting with each other and talking, and just enjoying.”
According to Babitskaya, often times ELL students feel isolated from the rest of the mainstream world so they’re pushed to try new things like school clubs such as Model UN or Global Leadership. Clubs, electives, and events like the International Thanksgiving help to expose the kids to different experiences.
“It is intimidating for sure so they take electives with mainstream but it is a little bit of isolation and we’re trying to support them,” Babitskaya said.”It’s like a family to move them into the outside world. But also be like, ‘hey we’re here and there.’ Always push and pull, adjusting to the high school life.”