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Joseph Lane middle school students learn about other cultures, to help prevent bullying

March 21, 2019
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Sarara Shirakawa, left, laughs during a panel discussion at Joseph Lane Middle School on Monday as Adrian Ng admits to liking American food so much that he got a hemorrhoid his first week. The two were part of the BRAVE World event hosted by 2018 Miss Douglas County Outstanding Teen Marin Gray.

Fatty food, bathroom gaps, leaving shoes on indoors, and eating with a fork and knife are all things that most Americans don’t think twice about.

But for foreign visitors, those things can be strange, as the students at Joseph Lane Middle School found out Monday afternoon during a BRAVE World event hosted by 2018 Miss Douglas County Outstanding Teen Marin Gray.

Gray started the Building Respect and Value for Everyone program three years ago to increase cultural understanding to decrease bullying.

“People who are culturally different are often the target of bullying in schools, because of fear and misunderstanding of those issues,” Gray said. The Roseburg freshman has visited more than a dozen countries and said being a “cultural outsider” helped her be more respectful and value other cultures.

Students first participated in an international culture tabletop fair where people from other countries shared photos, maps, clothing and art. Susan Edda of Iceland put together a flyer where students could find out their Icelandic last name.

“There are a lot of customs and traditions different than ours,” eighth-grader Sylvia Eckman said. “The one on Great Britain was pretty cool. It had different types of maps and photos.”

Students asked a lot of questions to the guests from around the world. Sometimes focusing more on the similarities than the differences.

Adrian Ng of Hong Kong told students his favorite food is Italian food. Although in the afternoon he also admitted to liking American fast food.

“The food in America is really fat,” Ng said. “I got a hemorrhoid my first week.”

Countries represented at the event were Vietnam, South Korea, Congo, Colombia, Germany, China, El Salvador, Japan, Iceland and the United Kingdom.

After lunch, the students came into the cafeteria for a panel interview hosted by Gray, where she asked about a variety of things such as cultural differences, traditions, food and school.

“I’ve lived here for half my life but I always miss — this is very short, one word — food, real Japanese food,” Akiyo Riggs of Japan said.

Japanese exchange student Sarara Shirakawa said, “Here you use knife and fork. It’s kind of annoying because I have to use both my hands and it’s heavier than chopsticks.”

When it came to debunking stereotypes about their culture, exchange student Finn Flugel said people often think Germans are “without humor, we’re straight forward and follow the rules. But I think I’m pretty funny sometimes.”

Barry Whitworth, who left his native United Kingdom when he was just 20 years old for New Zealand and moved to the United States four years after, said traveling is a great way to learn cultures and history.

“Everyone one of you here should want to travel,” Whitworth said. “They took a risk (he said as he pointed at the young panelist). They left their moms and dads, their safe haven to come to a foreign land. Pizza is great, but I grew up at the end of World War II and half of you can’t tell me the dates of World War II.

“You need to be willing to take a risk,” he said.

Through Gray’s connections as a Douglas County junior miss, the program has been sent to a national database and can be used by students throughout the United States.