Despite COVID-19 travel restrictions, students embarked on a sort of global adventure earlier this month. On Thursday Nov. 3rd, an array of colorful flags, paper passports and decorative desserts all transformed the Benedum dining hall as the four Vira Heinz scholars conducted a cultural workshop to share about their summer abroad experiences. They informed students of cultural differences and provided eye-opening lessons.
The four Vira Heinz scholars were seniors CeCe Fitts, Amanda Latta, Rachel Pellegrino and Emily Schafer. Four stations were set up in the dining hall, and each scholar presented on a different topic about their country. Fitts performed her station online due to her current school location in South Carolina. The other three scholars all presented in person.
“They all did a wonderful job,” Pat Bristor, the Associate Dean of students, said. “The ladies did it.”
Bristor is the director for Waynesburg’s Vira Heinz Scholarship program. She assists students with the application process, promotes the program on campus and regularly meets with the scholars before and after their programs.
Overall, Bristor thinks the workshop was successful. She is very thankful the event was held in person and is proud of all of the hard work of the Vira Heinz scholars. Bristor hopes the students and faculty members participating in the event were able to see that and learn something new.
“I hope there was enough time to get a taste of each country,” Bristor said.
The workshop was conducted in person, as well as offering a virtual option. Both university president, Douglas G. Lee, and his wife, Kathryn D. Lee, were at the event.
Schafer introduced the event, explaining the scholars’ aims to develop Waynesburg’s global perspective. Pellegrino also challenged students to keep an open mindset.
“We encourage you to keep an open mind in your field of study,” Pellegrino said.
Latta, an international studies and political science double-major, was happy with the workshop overall.
“I think the people were engaged,” Latta said. “We were each able to showcase and highlight our countries in a good way that represents accurately what the countries are, but also relates them in a meaningful way.”
Latta, during her presentation, provided a background of the government and economy in South Africa. She elaborated on their appeal to communism and pointed out the issues of poverty. She included a description of one of the prominent political figures, Jacob Zuma, and the following riots in 2021 after he was injured in prison. She also informed the audience of Africa’s Agenda 2063 and how international law plays a role in modernizing Africa. As a fun activity, she performed a yarn activity in which attendees had to untangle a ball of yarn. Her intention was to show that all cultures are connected.
“The way we do things in America might be good, and the way other people in other countries might do things might be good,” Latta said. “Just because we do one thing in America one way doesn’t mean that anybody else doing a different thing might be wrong.”
Schafer, a nursing major, was also pleased with the workshop.
“I think it went well,” Schafer said. “I think having the different stations made it more engaging for the audience.”
Schafer discussed her holistic health course in Costa Rica. She also focused on the multiple societal attitudes and values in Costa Rican culture. Compared to the United States, they are more family-centered and are flexible with their time.
In her discussion, Schafer explored the benefits of Costa Rican health practices, such as preventing chronic illnesses and even acupuncture. Schafer believes Americans need to prioritize physical, emotional and spiritual health more. As an interactive activity for participants, she distributed health pamphlets on how to improve one’s individual health. She even conducted a lavender scrub craft.
“What I learned from the experience is that there’s so much more out there than I originally thought,” Schafer said. “And I think that if everyone else could take that away too, it could encourage them to not limit themselves.”
Electronic media and journalism double major, Pellegrino, emphasized the scholars’ desires to enhance cultural awareness on campus.
“Take away awareness just for other cultures,” She said. “We wanted people to be mindful of cultural differences regarding towards their fields of study.”
Pellegrino completed her program through Italy and even had an internship with “Magenta Florence” magazine. Pellegrino opened her presentation with a lens activity she referred to as “our cultural frames of reference.” With this, she had students and faculty wear paper eyeglasses and write identifying labels about themselves. She then incorporated this to express how roles and backgrounds influence perspectives.
“Are any of your lens components holding you back?” Pellegrino asked the attendees.
Pellegrino discussed the differences of freedom of the press between Italy and the United States. She pointed out that the U.S. is ranked 44th on the list of press freedom, whereas Italy is 41st.
Pellegrino also explained some cultural differences she observed during her internship. She mentioned how Americans tend to be workaholics, but Italians place more of an emphasis on personal life. In a previous interview, she brought up the concept of timeliness, and she included this in her workshop station as well.
Like Latta and Schafer, Pellegrino believes the workshop’s outcome was successful.
“Overall I think the event went pretty well,” Pellegrino said. “Especially with all the hard work that we put into this, it’s nice that the event went so well and people got a lot out of it.”
Fitts, a marine biology major, gave a lesson on the harms of coral bleaching for her station. She completed her program with Costa Rica and had a marine biology course.
Fitts learned a lot about pollution’s negative impacts on the coral population, and described these harms to attendees. Fitts also demonstrated different cultural aspects in Costa Rica. She showed students a video on folk dancing, and even provided a lesson on common Spanish phrases.
A major takeaway for her was how strangers interact with one another. In Costa Rica, Fitts noted how common it was for strangers to greet everyone they saw. She wishes that would be normalized here. Fitts mentioned some of the political issues in Costa Rica as well, specifically with their eight party system.
Despite enjoying her class, she did admit her program was not without challenges. She noted how challenging it was because she was the only virtual student. However, she still felt her teacher did the best she could to include her in class activities and discussions.
“My teacher was really inclusive,” She said.
Ending and Announcement
To wrap up the event, Latta, Pellegrino and Schafer offered final words to sum up and conclude the event. Cookies from each country represented were given to those in attendance.
Bristor announced that the Vira Heniz deadline is now extended to Dec. 1st. Interested students can contact her for more details.