Foreign graduate students at U.S. universities recently visited New York's public schools to experience the diversity and range of the city's so-called "melting pot."
The visits are part of a program called "Global Classroom," designed to introduce foreign teachers and scholars to New York's multi-ethnic schools and broaden the worldview of the city's students.
Iraqi chemical engineer Sinan Abood understands the importance of diversity. He is the son of a Shi'ite father and Kurdish Sunni mother. But Sinan, who is studying water management in the Midwestern state of Michigan, was unprepared for the degree of diversity he found in New York schools. "I was shocked. I mean, 160 ethnicities in one small area. How can they live? I think we have the same situation back in Iraq. Too many ethnicities, religions, trends, and these things," he said.
Peace Uwineza of Rwanda, reacted differently as she looked around a small classroom of mostly Hispanic and African American students. "To me it looked like home. They all look like my own people so it was another surprise for me because in America I thought I would see many white children, but there are not too many there," he said.
Peace is studying conflict resolution at George Mason University in Virginia. She and Sinan met with students at the Vanguard School, which is made up of 350 secondary school students, mostly from poor, inner city families.
Louis Delgado, the school's principal and founder, says many of the students take five years to complete what is usually a four year course of study. The goal is to prepare them for college. "It is a pretty needy population in terms of academics, and sometimes health issues, and the structure at home. So we find ourselves motivating kids from the very beginning, probably throughout the four years, about all of the great possibilities there are by getting a high school diploma and then taking it into college and cashing in at least two to four or six years of higher education," he said.
At Manhattan International School most of the students have lived in the United States for less than four years and speak English as a second language.
Muhammad Imran, a student in Public Health at Harvard University in Massachusetts, is a doctor from Pakistan. He says the international background of the students helped him feel at home. "I was in that one classroom, and there were like 15 students and they were from like, 10 different countries! And it was really wonderful talking to them," he said.
Olga Litvishko from Russia is doing graduate work in political science at the University of Pittsburgh. She says visiting the schools is a great chance to experience real life. "We all stay at the universities. This is another level. If you want to teach, if you want to develop your methodology skills, you need to see the real schools in America, how the classes are conducted, how the students respond to your questions. It is a different technique actually from Russia. I think it is very useful for me because I want to be a teacher in the future," she said.
Most of the scholars were surprised by the degree of interaction they experienced with the American students. Cambodian Romny Theam is doing a Masters in Business Administration at the University of Akron, in Ohio. She liked learning from the students. "I can ask them questions, and they can ask me questions. So at the same time I feel like it was very useful because I can learn from them. When I entered the room, I felt like, 'I'm in the world,' with many people from different countries," she said.
The 76 foreign students who participated in the recent visits are all Fulbright scholars, sponsored by the State Department.