Freshman Qiaolu Zou misses her family back in China. So she chose to write about mooncakes, a traditional dessert, in a poem exhibition between international and elementary school students.
Several University of Wisconsin-Whitewater international students shared poems they wrote in the “Where I’m From” exhibition celebrating culture and identity on April 6. The exhibition, held in Laurentide Hall, featured special guest Wisconsin Poet Laureate Karla Hudson from Appleton and included work from both elementary and university-age students.
“Language connects us all to the world and to the community around us,” event organizer Rossitza Ivanova said during the exhibition’s opening remarks.
She said the purpose of the project and the involvement the international students had with inspiring the elementary school children.
“The event was part of a Community Based Learning Project, funded by a grant from the School of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education,” Ivanova said. “The project is ‘cross-departmental’ in that it was housed in and developed by two departments: the English Language Academy and the Department of Languages and Literatures.”
The international students that participated in the program shared their poems about culture and identity with 50 fourth graders from Washington Elementary School lead by teachers Jill and Nick Meinel.
“It was amazing to see that international students can be mentors and teachers for these young kids and could inspire them to think about themselves and about the world,” Ivanova said. “So hooray for poetry, hooray for language and for the way literature connects us and makes us feel more inspired.”
The poems the students wrote were posted on the walls around the room, and the international students present were asked to stand by their poems.
Ivanova said she believed the poems were intended to be shared in a more intimate and personal way, so attendees were asked to mingle and read around the room.
Zou was one of the many students to share a poem. Her poem was about the Cantonese mooncake, something she said is very traditional and important to her culture.
“I think a mooncake is a little lovely and sweet thing to talk about to U.S. students about Chinese culture,” Zou said. “Also, just as my poem says, mooncake means ‘reunion,’ which also means ‘I miss my family.’”
Hudson explained the benefit of writing a “where I’m from” poem and concluded the event by reading several of her poems based on place.
“It’s a wonderful tool for people to talk about their background without using too much of the capital letter ‘I.’ It relies heavily on wonderful imagery and wonderful use of language,” Hudson said. “But even more importantly, telling people where I’m from tells people about who you are as a person, and your culture, and the things you choose to use in the poem tell about what’s important to you.”