published Saturday, October 29th, 2011

Soddy-Daisy High School students share U.S. culture

Nasser Alharbi, left, and Savannah Davis carve a pumpkin Thursday at Greenway Farms during a cultural program between students in a UTC English language program and Soddy-Daisy High School students.
Nasser Alharbi, left, and Savannah Davis carve a pumpkin Thursday at Greenway Farms during a cultural program between students in a UTC English language program and Soddy-Daisy High School students.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

Nasser Alharbi never had carved a jack-o-lantern until this week.

The 19-year-old was among 20 foreign students in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's English as a Second Language Institute who took time out to learn about American culture.

A class of 34 Soddy-Daisy High School English students spent the day sharing about their lives, while also learning about the foreigners.

Alharbi said he enjoyed learning about the American celebration of Halloween -- a holiday that doesn't exist in his native Saudi Arabia. He said he appreciates the chance to interact with Americans.

"I actually just came to the country. So this is really good for me," he said.

Soddy-Daisy English teacher Trevor Fuller said his students gain a better understanding of the world by meeting diverse people. The day also helps the Americans dispel some myths or stereotypes about foreign cultures, he said.

"We're not very culturally diverse and we don't get these opportunities," he said. "My kids get to interact with kids from countries that they read about and study about."

Most of the students studying in the ESL institute are in their 20s, hoping to go on to study full-time at a college or university after mastering English.

Soddy-Daisy student Laura Maynard said she was surprised to learn all the things she had in common with the foreign students.

"They're just like us. It's really cool," she said. "Most people think that people from other countries are so much different. But we like a lot of the same things."

For the ESL students, spending a whole day with American students is a rarity.

Jane Womack, director of UTC's ESL Institute, said her students can sometimes struggle connecting with busy UTC students. For some of the internationals, the program is their first chance to get to know American youth.

"It's hard to meet American students, ironically, even though we're in the heart of campus," she said. "For many of them it's their first opportunity to meet young Americans."

And the lessons from the field trip to Hixson's Greenway Farms last more than just the one day. Organizers say students often continue relationships after the field trip.

"Some stay in contact," Maynard said. "That's really what it's all about -- building relationships."

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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