Program stresses cultural diversity

Kaleidoscope offers students an up-close glimpse of various international cultures.
Monday, March 13, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:25 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 5, 2008

An MU program seeks to have children understand the world better and discover the value in differences. Kaleidoscope, a program organized by MU’s International Center, allows international students at MU to share their culture with students from preschool to high school.

“The main goal of the program is to give the international students an opportunity to share something that is important to them and to simultaneously enrich the lives of young students in area schools by sharing with them interesting people with incredible life stories,” said Erika Felts, a 2005 MU graduate who was the director of the program during its initial stage.

Originally from Malaysia, Yee Tsuey Ong has twice presented for the program — once at Discovery Days Preschool and once at the World Cultures Fair at Cedar Ridge Elementary School.

“Kaleidoscope is a very interesting program because it helps kids to learn about other countries and cultures in a very special way,” said Ong, a senior majoring in biological science. “Kids are not learning these in textbooks or from teachers who haven’t really experienced that culture; they are getting the opportunity to have people from that country to talk about their culture.”

Ahmed Al-Tunaiji, a senior from the United Arab Emirates, even made a brochure on the history and future of his home country for an international literature class he addressed at Boonville High School last October.

“It was a great chance and experience showing the community about our Arabic region,” said Al-Tunaiji, who is majoring in chemical engineering. “Since many of the current news come from that region, it’s very important to show the community a lot about it. Then, when they see the news, they will better understand what exactly is happening.”

To get a presentation on the road, the program directors not only have to accommodate the schools’ requirements but also make arrangements within the volunteers’ tight schedules.

“The very hardest part is scheduling,” said Dottie Heibel, a staff adviser at the International Center. “The very critical thing is to get our requests in time. So, it is best for us to have at least six weeks between the requests and the actual presentations.”

Providing the MU campus and the Columbia community with exposure, education and experiences that will raise awareness about global issues and increase understanding of cultural diversity, Kaleidoscope has grown to attract schools outside of Columbia to participate in the program.

“It’s a good opportunity for kids to learn about other cultures when they are young,” said Litah Miller, an MU sophomore majoring in business and Spanish, who is one of the two Kaleidoscope directors. “Some of the little kids have never been in contact with someone outside this country, so providing something like Kaleidoscope is obviously getting the kids to understand globalization.”

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