This post was written by Hatchet Reporter Ariel Feldman.
The School Without Walls student body went international this month, welcoming 40 exchange students from Ghana and Nigeria for a three-week cultural exchange program.
The program Reading Across Continents was created from a $370,000 State Department grant and focuses on promoting international literacy and cultural understanding. The grant funds an exchange program involving 20 students from the Achimota School in Ghana and 20 students from the Loyola Jesuit College in Nigeria.
The exchange students have been living at the National 4-H Conference Center in Bethesda with teachers from their schools for the past two weeks, and are studying three books by African and American authors.
The students participating in the program have also been given the opportunity to write three books of their own –– one each for D.C., Nigeria and Ghana –– as a community service project that aims to promote global cultural awareness. The books will be bound by the Smithsonian and then presented to third and sixth grade classes in the D.C. Public School system as an attempt to educate American students about life in Africa and abroad.
“I hope that the students who read the books get a reality check; [many Americans] think that all Africans live in trees, that we’re all poor,” Torera Sotiriwa, a 16-year-old student from Nigeria said. “It made me very sad when someone asked me that…I want to clear the ignorance.”
But the students have assimilated very well according to Richard Trogisch, the principal of the School Without Walls. Roth Nordin, the assistant principal of the school, said the new students have already starting fitting in with the other Walls students.
“When [the African students] walked in the first day, I just could not tell the difference between the Nigerians and the Ghanaians from our kids,” Nordin said. “It was amazing.”
Besides gaining an understanding of American culture and society as well as an idea of Washington D.C., the exchange students have also formed friendships.
Nina Robinson, 17, a senior at the School Without Walls, said she has noticed similarities between the African students and herself.
“They’re teenagers, so even though they’re from a different continent, we have a lot of things in common,” Robinson said.