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Intercultural ambassador Joshua Dudley

SDSU Intercultural Ambassadors Build
Global Awareness in San Diego Schools 

By Michael Klitzing

On a recent bright and crisp San Diego morning, Brian Shirey informed his fifth grade students that he had a mile run planned for them. A look of concern washed over their faces almost immediately – and it had nothing to do with physical exertion.

“They were like, ‘No, we’re going to miss Joshua!’” said Shirey, a teacher at Adams Elementary in Normal Heights. “I assured them that I had it all planned out and that Joshua was even bringing something to eat.”

Shirey was true to his word. Just before lunchtime Joshua Dudley – wearing a borrowed kilt and bearing gifts of Irn-Bru soft drink and canned haggis – arrived. The excitement in the classroom was palpable.

Dudley, an exchange student coming to San Diego State from Aberdeen, Scotland, is one of 14 students taking part in Intercultural Ambassadors – a program that sends SDSU students with international and intercultural backgrounds into local elementary school classes to discuss their home countries and cultures.

“I got involved mainly because I wanted to teach people about Scotland,” Dudley said. “It’s one of those countries that people have a slight bit of knowledge about, but they honestly don’t know how it differs from other places. It’s also to help me develop my communication skills a bit more. So far it’s been a good experience.”

It seems equally good for the kids.

During a visit that lasted less than an hour, Dudley discussed kilts and other traditional attire and explained Scotland’s traditional clan system. The students then designed their own clan tartans – a pattern of criss-crossing horizontal and vertical bands – before being served the imported refreshments.

Shirey’s class was fully engaged as they listened to the presentation, enthusiastically raising hands whenever Dudley posed a question or encouraged feedback – and, as always, he got plenty of feedback. Dudley smiles recalling some of the questions he’s received in the classroom, such as who is the president of Scotland (there isn’t one) or how many states Scotland has (there aren’t any). He also noted the students’ particular fascination with his country’s cold climate.

“I find it interesting listening to the kids and seeing what they know or what they find interesting about my country,” he said. “You say something and they’ll go, ‘Wow, that’s amazing!’ because it’s completely different from what they’re used to.”

The wonder and inquisitiveness shown by Dudley’s students is surely music to the ears of Gary Kroesch, director of International Studies Teacher Education Project (ISTEP) at SDSU. ISTEP partners with SDSU’s International Student Center and several local schools to run the program, designed to expose students to other cultures and the concept of global citizenship.

“This program adds value to the lives of both our San Diego State international students and our local K-12 students,” Kroesch said. “The SDSU students are good role models for pursuing higher education, including the possibilities of studying abroad, while developing inquiring, knowledgeable and caring students to understand our interconnected world through intercultural understanding. Most importantly, this program extends San Diego State's community outreach to our local communities and enables our students to better understand we are living in an interconnected world.”

Mae Sze Ng, a public relations senior from Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, became an Intercultural Ambassador as a junior because her experience studying in the United States showed her how uninformed many Americans are about cultures other than their own.

Last year, she presented to two classes of third and fourth graders last year at Rowan Elementary in San Diego.

“When I first walked into the classroom at Rowan, you could tell the kids were like, ‘Who is this strange creature?’” Ng said, smiling. “They had all sorts of questions.”

To teach students about her life in Malaysia, she told them about her family, the local cuisine, the environment and myriad of festivals and national holidays celebrated in the pluralistic nation. The students colored Malaysian flags, and Ng even taught the class how to count from 1 to 10 in Mandarin, one of the many languages spoken in the country.

The experience was so positive that she signed on for a second year.

“I think it’s really important for Americans to see outside of America,” Ng said. “I think Intercultural Ambassadors is really great because when I go into classrooms, I know the students will go home and talk to their parents about it.”

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