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Finding a cultural identity

The Culture and Connections Club brings WHS students together

Zabelle Mkhitaryan

Guest Writer

November 8, 2023

French connection - O’Brien spoke about how her dad helped her build a Paris-themed area in her classroom. They built the fence, the table, and café chairs to go with it.

The Culture and Connections Club at WHS strives to help students embrace different cultures, spread cultural awareness, and find their inner cultural identity.

Stacey O’Brien is the head of the Culture and Connections club. “I hope to provide the students with many different opportunities, to engage and interact globally, to travel and meet other people,” O’Brien said.

WHS currently offers two different exchange programs for students who want to travel globally during the school year. The programs are AFS and CIEE, which will provide the students with a year-long experience. This year is the first year to have an exchange program with a school in Japan which is founded on the concept of international friendship and exchange.

The club meetings take place on the last Monday of every month during CORE. Jetta Hayes, a sophomore at WHS and a member of the Culture and Connections club hopes for involvement from more students.

“One issue with the culture and connections club is that only a small part of our school participates,” Hayes said. “For example, if we had a culture day, only a select few would take part. If it were up to me, I would create advertisements that would express that all students have the opportunity to show their culture.”

A culture day would bring more students together, and would also spread more cultural awareness overall. For example, if one student could own a booth with a poster board that talks about their overall culture, it would be a great way to represent their country and bring more cultural awareness.

“I definitely think the school could focus on more cultural education, whether that occurs in foreign language or history classes is another topic,” Arthur Michelstetter, a senior at WHS and a member of the Culture and Connections club said. “I find that many students are simply unaware of other peoples' practices, beliefs, lifestyles, and languages. Cultural awareness also needs to extend to not just groups from outside the United States, but also to groups that are not dominantly represented in Westfield, like queer and African-American communities.”

Culture has many definitions and meanings for people. Some associate culture with ethnicity or nationality, whereas others define culture as a lifestyle or traditions. Interacting with people of various cultures is a learning opportunity that helps expand our view of the world.

“My definition of culture would be kind of a mix of your personal identity and the traditions and values from your family or community,” O’Brien explained. “It could also be the values that are brought with you and are important to you and help you feel connected to your culture.”

When asking others about their cultures and traditions, it is important to show genuine interest in understanding and not to express criticism or judgment. This can be challenging, as sometimes these questions may be perceived as racist, if not posed properly and respectfully.

Club vice president Isabelle Naughton, a senior at WHS, explained, “It is important to approach the person carefully with an open mind with the intention of learning and not harassment or belittlement. Questions like "If you don't mind me asking, what ethnicity are you?” and "Would you be open to talking about your culture?" would be a good start.”

The ways of life are different around the world, including cuisine, language, religion, traditions, lifestyle, and other aspects. Just because something is different does not mean that it is wrong or strange.

“When you ask someone about their culture, you have to ask with an open mind and an open heart, because a lot of the time we tend to look through our own cultural lens,” O’Brien said. “I have my own life experiences, and I'm looking at a different culture through that, and I may think that something is strange or weird, but they don’t live my life. They have their own life and culture, and I have to be open to seeing that through their eyes and not mine.”

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