The Newtown International Center for Education (NICE) held a highlight night on May 15 at Newtown High School to celebrate the shared experiences this year between students from Newtown and abroad.
NICE, a kindergarten through grade 12 international education initiative of the Newtown Public Schools, promotes both overseas travel and study for its students and faculty as well as hosting students and faculty from other countries in order to create a better understanding of the importance of international relations.
Students can both travel to and host students and educators from Japan, China, and France. In the past year alone, NICE sent roughly 25 students and faculty each to both China and France, and hosted about the same number here in Newtown, according to Lisa Berger, president of the NICE Parent Community Organization (NICE PCO).
NICE PCO is a coalition of parents and community members dedicated to supporting the NICE program by raising funds, organizing events, and involving the greater community in the hosting experience.
NICE Program Coordinator and NHS Assistant Principal Jason Hiruo opened the series of speeches that would comprise the evening of reflection by speaking of the interconnectedness that the hosting and traveling components of the program consistently create.
“NICE brings the world to Newtown, and simultaneously brings Newtown to the world,” Mr Hiruo said.
He also spoke highly of the students involved in the NICE program, many of whom were present at the highlight night to share their stories of travel and cross-cultural friendships.
According to Mr Hiruo, the levels of success, understanding, enjoyment, fulfillment, and confidence they have acquired from their participation are outstanding.
Two of these students, Lee Cummings and Emily Berube, both NHS juniors, were present at the event to speak of their experiences hosting Japanese students. Each hosted one Japanese student for two weeks.
According to Lee, the language barrier was virtually nonexistent, as the English of the visiting students was very good.
During their stay, both girls were able to discover many similarities between the two cultures, one of which being their shared use of Facebook.
“It’s nice to hear from them through Facebook,” Emily said. “But they are very busy most of the time.”
Additionally, Lee plans to travel to Japan this summer for one month via the Japan Society, the same program through which her visiting student traveled.
Community members can host students from Japan, but traveling to Japan is different than traveling to China and France, as the Japan initiative began in Newtown just last year. Instead of traveling as a large group, NHS had three of its students go to Kyoto to take part in an international conference held annually for high school students.
Eric Song, a senior, referred to his participation in this conference as “a life-changing experience,” as NHS was the only United States school represented at the conference.
According to Eric, bringing so many different countries together allowed the students to see the varying cultural approaches to certain problems.
Many parents also presented at the highlight night about their experiences as hosts to foreign students and teachers.
Gary Davis, a parent of NHS students, spoke of his experience hosting a Chinese student on two separate occasions. Mr Davis shared stories of their exchange students’ desires to experience American food, technology, and pastimes.
“Most would think that it’s a daunting experience, but it was actually wonderful,” Mr Davis said.
In addition, John Cortese, another NHS parent involved in NICE, hosted a French teacher this past year. Mr Cortese said that they spoke about an array of topics, from the cost of universities to how to properly wear a baseball cap to tactics for dealing with a child’s first heartbreak.
“We actually found more commonalities than differences,” Mr Cortese said.
NICE aims to create those kinds of realizations for its participants and its partners overseas — that similarities between cultures often supersede the things that set them apart, according to Ms Berger.
With the belief in mind that “it is our responsibility to prepare our children for their changing, interconnected world,” she shared that NICE hopes to continue its success by sending more children abroad and expanding the program’s educational partnerships to more countries.