Cultural Connections April 2014


Cultural Connections

April 2014

Dear Friends of Amity!

“Spring is when you feel like whistling even with shoes full of slush!” said Doug Larson in one of his daily columns in a Wisconsin newspaper. As most of the United States slowly recovers from a winter beyond description, we are looking forward to the final quarter of the school year. With great joy we have watched our interns blossom while bringing so much to their classrooms and communities. It is exciting to read their reports and learn also about their cultural explorations.

Equally appreciated are our exchange teachers who bring their expertise and knowledge with an international flair.

It is a privilege for all of us at Amity to work with such an elite group of people. Thank you for your service in the spirit of international friendship!

                                                                                                                   Trudy Hermann, Executive Director

Intern from Santiago de Chile Gains Global Perspective

Chilean Intern Daniel Rivera Gutierrez recently shared his experience in the United States and what he’s focusing on during his final months at the Goethe International Charter School in Los Angeles.   Daniel currently works with both a 3rd grade class and the Physical Education classes at Goethe, and he plans to work as a P.E. teacher when he returns to Chile.

Daniel explained, “I chose to participate in Amity’s Intern Program because in the near future, I will become a teacher. I came to the U.S. to learn about the American education system, and I plan to share all of the good things that I’ve learned when I return to Chile. I want to share with other teachers what I’ve learned, to help improve the education system in my home country.”

He continued, “In my final few weeks as an Intern here, I am focusing on improving my English skills, though I know that I have improved greatly over the past few months.  I’ve realized that every day I can learn new things.  Now that we are in the spring semester, my confidence in my teaching abilities has grown greatly and I am trying to get more involved with my students, their work and their needs. I’m also looking forward to some nice spring weather, because California has quite a beautiful climate!”

Daniel is also excited to share some Chilean traditions with his school community before returning home.  He said, “Before the school year ends, we have an International Day, and on this day all of the interns have to show everything that we consider important to our countries. I think that I’ll share my culture by cooking some customary food for people to try, and I also plan on sharing some traditional dances, music and poems.  I think that my students and their parents will find these elements of Chilean culture very interesting!”

Most importantly, Daniel believes that his Amity experience has granted him a wider global perspective.  He explained, “We live in a society that is constantly changing, and we have to prepare to learn new things and be open-minded. This experience has helped me realize that there are a huge variety of cultures, races, thought processes…. We have to be conscious as individuals that there are a lot of people who are very different than us, and we must always try to be empathetic towards them.”

Don Quixote Takes the Stage with Help of Spanish Exchange Teacher

Amity Exchange Teacher Antonio Morata brought Spanish literature to life with his students through a creative interpretation of the classic Don Quixote. Antonio explained, “As part of the Spanish curriculum, both elementary and middle school students learned about Don Quixote, an essential masterpiece in Spanish literature.  The Spanish Dance Department and the Drama Department at Conchita Espinosa (in Miami) developed the idea to perform Don Quixote and they asked for my assistance.  I eagerly complied, extending my Don Quixote unit by several weeks to cover all the materials necessary.”

Not only did Antonio teach his students the context and material behind the scenes, but he also had his debut performance in front of the curtain as one of the lead roles in the play.  He explained, “The main roles were played by middle school students, either by acting or dancing. I had only been involved in school plays as an elementary school student! However, I myself participated as Miguel de Cervantes, the author. Therefore I led the introduction and guided the characters by narrating the story.”

When asked whether he found that the performance helped his students to connect with the literary material better, Antonio answered, “Of course! Students were involved in the play. All of them participated, either by playing a role or by helping their peers prepare for it. They were immersed in the content studied in class. They felt they were part of what they were learning.”

He continued, “The most rewarding part is undoubtedly to see how hard work pays off. The play came out wonderful and my students will never forget what Don Quixote is about. Attendants enjoyed the play and congratulated us. Even preprimary kids, who don’t study Don Quixote at their age, find me in the hallways and scream ‘Don Quixote de la Mancha!’ ”

Spotlight on a Screening Officer

Screening Officer Omayra Marroquin has dedicated her professional life to connecting students and young teachers from Colombia with the rest of the world via exchange programs. Born and raised in Bogota, Omayra studied French at the Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, and then completed her masters at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom.  After graduating, Omayra returned to Bogota to begin her career.

When asked how she got involved with educational exchange, Omayra explained, “In 2006, I started working at the Centro Colombo Americano and my office is in charge of studies and exchanges to the United States. Therefore, I have been able to continue the beautiful work that my predecessors did by teaming up with Amity. We have seen many students and young teachers grow in their personal and professional lives through this program.”

She continued, “The best part of my work is helping and encouraging students to experience a different culture and dream big. I love travelling, meeting people from different countries and having the opportunity to make friends in the U.S., Europe, China, Honk Kong, Peru and Brazil. Cultural competences are essential in our globalized world, and I think exchange programs are a great educational tool.”

Omayra enjoys spending her free time with her husband and young son, Mateo, playing the piano, and scuba diving.  Amity Institute is incredibly grateful to have Omayra as a member of our international team!

Where Are They Now?

We recently caught up with Myriam Velez-Baldwin, an alumna of the forerunner of the current Amity Intern Program in which she participated almost thirty years ago! Myriam discussed what lead her to participate in a cultural exchange program, what she gained from her international experience, and how her assignment shaped her professional and personal future.

Born in Colombia, Myriam attended college in Medellin at the Bolivariana, a private Catholic university. After graduating, she began teaching at a high school in the area.  It was around this time that Myriam began considering traveling abroad. She said, “I was feeling restless; I wanted to explore the world, to get out of my comfort zone and meet other people and see other places. In a conversation, about this topic, with my cousin, Alvaro Gomez (who had just returned from a year with Amity), I learned about the program.   I felt Amity was exactly what I was looking for and applied. My first assignment was in Coon Rapids Jr. H. in Coon Rapids, Minnesota (1976-1977). The second year I was sent to Charleston High School in Charleston, West Virginia (1977-1978).”

After Myriam returned back to Colombia after completing her program, she remained close with many U.S. acquaintances.  She said, “My first host family (the Werneckes from Coon Rapids) was wonderful, and I am still in touch with them.  In West Virginia, I also had the great fortune to find another wonderful family, the Friedlander’s.  I considered both families to be great friends. The Friedlander family moved to North Florida and I have visited a few times. I also still maintain relationships with fellow interns and supervising teachers.  Unfortunately, in the late 70’s we did not have access to computers or easy forms of communication. Thus, I have lost touch with some individuals that became close friends at the time.”

Do you have a story to share? Write to us! We love to hear from you.

Photo Gallery

Spring Break – A welcome opportunity to explore the USA!

Hiking the Grand Canyon

Surf’s up!

Kindergarteners form a living

peace sign

Visiting China Town in Los Angeles

Science camp with 5th graders

Students received a crown after tasting “la Galette des Rois”

What did I get out of it?

German Intern Ria Hanke reflects on her Amity experience after returning home from five months in the United States.

“Even though I am going to be a secondary teacher for English and German, it was very eye-opening to work with elementary students at the German International School of Silicon Valley. I have realized that education at the elementary and the secondary school level cannot be seen as something separate, because they have to build on each other to provide the students with a smooth transition between the school types.

As a future English teacher I will not only teach my students grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary, but I will also impart on them the cultures of English-speaking countries. Therefore, it is a matter of concern to me that I acquire as much experience as possible in these foreign countries. These past months provided me with a brief but important glimpse at American culture that I will be sure to share with my students in years to come.

I felt very welcomed in the U.S. from the first day on, mainly because of the easy-going and talkative people I encountered, who I not only worked and lived with, but who I also met in public places. I still have never left a U.S. café without having had a chat with one of the shop assistants or customers. Surprisingly, these discussions do not necessarily have to start with small talk about the weather or the seasonal business. Most of the time, random topics or spontaneous situations lead to these nice chats, which even seem to be of interest for both sides. Sometimes I just enjoyed sitting next to people in a coffee shop, who work at their laptops, while doing my own preparations for school.

Overall, I truly enjoyed my experience interning in the United States, during which I gained valuable knowledge, not only for myself but and also for my future students.  They will not only benefit from my huge language skill improvement, but also from the great cultural experiences and anecdotes I collected along the way.”

In the years since leaving the Amity program, Myriam has worn many professional hats.  She has worked as a retail manager, an independent contractor, and now even owns her own organic vineyard in Argentina!  Still, she hasn’t forgotten her time as an Amity Intern, which she believes was crucial to her own personal growth development.  She explained, “The experience with Amity was life changing; I came from a very conservative, homogeneous, middle class background.  In this environment there were no opportunities to meet people from different cultures, religions or ethnicities.  The Amity experiences opened many doors for me; solidifying my desire to experience the world’s many exciting places, peoples and food. Thus, traveling has become one of my life passions.”

Practicing the art of papercutting

Sharing a potluck of international foods with neighbors

Getting ready for the dance performance.


“America Through My Eyes Intern photo contest 2014. Deadline for submissions is April 30, 2014. Don’t miss it- Send us your best shots and win a prize!

  French Interns Welcome

If you know of anyone who is interested in the experience of a life time, we may just have the right program. Information and Pre-Application on our website Check it out!

  Emily Stowell Scholarship Notice to Intern Host Schools

Send in your nomination of an outstanding Intern for the $500 award by April 15, 2014. The winning school will receive a matching amount! Details went out directly to schools. Did you send your nomination in?

Focus on Education

Strategies to Reach Every Student, Regardless of Language Barrier:This MindShift article discusses using project-based learning to connect with struggling language learners.

Go West, Young People! And East!This New York Time’s op-ed emphasizes the importance of traveling and studying abroad in shaping a young adult’s perspective, character, and future.

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April Celebrations

Passover – April 14, 2014

Passover or Pesach is one of the best known Jewish holidays. Passover begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan. It is the first of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance. Agriculturally, it represents the beginning of the harvest season in Israel. The primary observances of Passover are related to the Exodus from Egypt after 400 years of slavery as told in the biblical Book of Exodus from chapters 1 to 15. Passover lasts for seven days (eight days outside of Israel).


Easter Sunday – April 20, 2014

Easter Sunday is considered the highest holiday in the Christian church calendar as it commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is preceded by the Lenten season, a time of fasting, sacrifice and prayer symbolizing the suffering of Christ.

Easter has also become a secular celebration with colored eggs, the Easter bunny, jelly beans, and lots of chocolate. Tradition has it that the Easter bunny comes on the Saturday night leading to Easter Sunday morning hiding eggs, chocolates and candy. Decorating of eggs with intricate patterns (Pysanky) is a wide-spread folk-art form and many people have heard of the world-famous Fabergé eggs.


Patriot’s Day - Third Monday in April

Patriot’s Day commemorates the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. This battle began the American Revolutionary War. It also honors the “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”, when Paul Revere rode through town warning the colonists that “The Red Coats are coming!” In the states of New England, it is an important holiday celebrated with reenactments and parades.


Earth Day (U.S.) – Always on April 22.

U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, the “Father of Earth Day”, initiated and promoted environmental actions and activities beginning in 1962. He convinced then President John F. Kennedy to tour the nation in support of environmental concerns. This initial effort did not spark national concern at a political level to effect change.  But Senator Nelson continued his pursuit of increased environmental concern and action. He proposed a National Earth day in 1970. It was to be the first nationwide environmental protest “to shake up the political establishment and force this issue onto the national agenda”. On April 22, 1970, the timing was right and the first Earth Day protest received astounding support.

On that first Earth Day, an estimated 20 million Americans took to the street in support of the environment and to protest harmful environmental practices. This effort produced a lasting impact on the environment and brought about greater awareness that our planet has limited resources, and that our eco-system is self-contained and finite. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed as a direct result of this first Earth Day in 1970.


Arbor Day - Last Friday in April (in Nebraska).

National Arbor Day is the Tree Planter’s holiday, and has been celebrated since 1872. It began in Nebraska, a largely treeless plain back in the 1800’s. It is a day to plant and dedicate a tree to help nature and the environment. All states in the US now have an official Arbor Day usually at a time of the year that has the correct climatological conditions for planting trees. Similar events to encourage the planting or care of trees are arranged in many countries around the world. The dates are usually chosen to coincide with the optimal season for planting or caring for native trees. It is estimated that 18 million trees are planted each year on Arbor Day.

More: Learn how to plant a tree

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