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International Student Speakers Bureau Brings Cultural Awareness to Norman Seventh Graders

ISSB Students in Lindsey Hopp's classroom at Longfellow Middle School in Norman.

The International Student Speakers Bureau, or ISSB, is one of the most unique, community-focused programs the College of International Studies has to offer. The organization, which is overseen by the International Student Services (ISS) office, offers international students and scholars the opportunity to share their knowledge and thoughts about their home countries with the local community. By facilitating presentations and face-to-face discussions in local schools and other community groups, ISSB helps break down stereotypes, fostering greater global awareness and acceptance. An ISSB presentation usually involves a speaker or speakers presenting on such topics as language differences, festivals, school and childhood in their countries, weddings, dating, food, religion, clothing and native dances, among others.

One of the International Student Speakers Bureau's biggest events this fall was last month's visit to Longfellow Middle School in Norman, where 10 speakers presented in the classes of seventh-grade teachers Lindsey Hopp and Asher Cathey. Hopp, who teaches geography with a focus on the Eastern hemisphere, reached out to ISSB after a colleague told her about the group. "After hearing about the experience that his students were having, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to include this into my own curriculum," she says.

Hopp is no stranger to OU international programs — the OU alum, who graduated just last December with a degree in Social Studies Ed, volunteered as a peer mentor for ISS's New International Student Orientation during her time as a student, and she even studied abroad in Gulu, Uganda. "This gave me the opportunity to shortly reside in a culture different than my own, which helped me see things from a different perspective that I would've otherwise not have gotten," she says. "I remember being taken aback by how involved Ugandans were as citizens within their community, and this shaped a lot of my philosophy on being a social studies educator."

The 10 student speakers, who were split evenly between Hopp and Cathey's classes, hailed from Germany, Russia, France, The Netherlands, Slovakia and the UK. The speakers began by giving their names, where they are from, and their favorite thing about their home countries. Then Hopp and Cathey opened a Q&A, letting students ask whatever they liked while posing some questions of their own that connected back to the class subject matter.

But it wasn't just the middle school students and teachers who gained knowledge of other cultures. A cornerstone of ISSB is reciprocity — that is, a sense of sharing between speakers and their audiences, rather than a one-sided lecture. "During lunch, the ISSB speakers were paired with some of our students at Longfellow to give our speakers an experience of their own in an American lunchroom and recess environment," Hopp recalls. "I think both the speakers and students really loved this time to be able to connect and ask questions to each other about their experiences that are a little bit more natural and fluid than in a classroom setting."

While students can of course learn about different cultures through standard classroom activities, readings, films and discussions, Hopp felt that the ISSB visit offered a unique learning opportunity not found in a textbook. "Opening up students at a young age to various cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives is tremendously important in our growing global world," she says. "It is not my job to tell students what or how to think, but rather give them as many avenues to learn different perspectives as possible. If we are learning about other people's countries, cultures and norms, this is going to be best understood and known by people who lived in these places."

Hopp hopes that the visit has not only piqued students' curiosity about other cultures, but that the speakers' insight will add more depth and perspective to the material the class will cover throughout the year. "As much as it is important for my students and me to learn from our speakers, I think it is also important that we give this voice to our speakers in our teachings of these places," she says.

Are you an international student interested in joining ISSB, or a community leader or educator who would like to host a speaker or panel? Visit the ISSB webpage to get started!

Top image: The group of ISSB speakers at Longfellow Middle School.

Right image: Lindsey Hopp in her classroom.

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