YORK - From the sandy beaches of Dominican Republic to snowy forests of Sweden, 339 elementary and middle school students from the York area explored the world at the annual Cultural Geography Fair hosted by York College on Friday.
College students spent months preparing for the event, researching everything from the natural resources to the national pastimes of the countries selected. Teams of students presented food, costumes, language, games and fun facts about Columbia, Nepal, Greece, Ethiopia, Germany, Samoa, Kuwait, Dominican Republic, Sweden, Zambia, Brazil and Mexico at this year’s event.
The Geography Fair, now in its sixth year, is organized by Christi Lones, assistant professor of history. She sees great value in the project for her students as well as the elementary and middle school students who attend.
“[The college students] are so passionate about this project,” she said. “To see the younger kids and their excitement, that’s worth all of the worry, work and stress to make this event happen every year. Those kids love it. It’s great for our students, too.”
The group work component is vital to the project, said Lones, noting that she, like most of her students, prefers solo tasks to group projects. “I tell my students, in all of your life, both professionally and personally, you will have to work with other people. This is good practice.”
Lones’s Cultural Geography class is a general education course, so students from all majors are included. One of the key purposes of the class is for students to see that different doesn’t mean weird, says Lones. “There’s value in learning why are they different. You come to a place of respect,” she said. Whether it’s Sweden’s very generous policy on maternity leave or Ethiopia’s 13-month calendar, people around the world do things differently, and one culture’s ways are not necessarily better or worse than another’s. “We’re studying culture as a whole. Hopefully they walk away from this project with a deeper understanding of what they take for granted as ‘normal’ and with a bigger worldview.”
At the end of the Geography Fair, young students left campus with passports full of country flag stickers, bags of crafts and coloring pages, and minds full of information about the wide world. Some YC students were left with a kindled passion for travel and research.
Eric Smith, a senior from Greeley, Colorado, explored the African nation of Zambia with classmates. He says the experience made him want to travel, to Zambia (where he’d like to bungee jump and see Victoria Falls) and places far beyond. “When I do travel, I will do research like this before I go,” he said. “This was a good way to learn about different people and places.” Chris Baker, a freshman from Dodge City, Kansas, had a similar experience researching the Dominican Republic. After learning about the people, culture, and challenges, he says visiting the island nation is now on his bucket list.
Stella Newman, a sophomore from Livingston, Montana, has visited the country she researched for her project a number of times, as she has family there. However, the experience of studying Sweden academically and presenting the information stretched her. “I learned a lot of interesting facts and I was really excited to share about the country with children.”