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Cultures Shine at WHS International Night

Westfield High's fifth-annual International Night was a big success, as always. But this year's event was even more special because it was put on by the school's new International Club with students from about a dozen countries.

"Often, their cultures don't get showcased," said Westfield ESOL teacher and club sponsor Carmen Danies. "But they bring their cultures [to America] with them, and that's what was displayed at International Night."

MANY TIMES, she said, "That transition from a different culture into American mainstream life is drastic and shocking. So this was an opportunity for these students to feel successful."

And if the cheers and applause of the large crowd attending the recent show are any indication, the show was definitely a hit. Students from Bolivia, India, Japan, China, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, El Salvador, Nepal, Ethiopia and Egypt sang, danced and played musical instruments. There was even a Kung Fu exhibition.

Several students also got together and presented an international fashion show highlighting clothing styles from their native countries. And during intermission, a table was set up in the hallway where students could receive henna tattoos on their hands.

In addition, to help them integrate and network within the school, some International Club students joined with American fashion-marketing and marketing students to help create the fashion show and then advertise the whole event to the public. But they were all excited to entertain on stage.

"Our friends and families could come and see us perform and share our culture," said junior Anshita Joshi, 16, of India. "And then, when we talk about our countries in school, [the other students] are not so confused," added classmate Harleen Tur, also from India.

Both girls danced in a group called South Asia Temptation and modeled in the fashion show. Anshita joined the International Club because "it's about all the cultures. And you chill with your friends and meet other people from other cultures."

"I JOINED because it's a club for everyone, all around the world," said Tur, 16. "We do fund-raisers [for countries having natural disasters] and discuss events we'll do next." Shiza Farid of Pakistan said the club "brings us closer to our roots so we can pass on [our cultures] to later generations."

Senior Safian Choudhry, 18, is the founding member and president and is pleased that the club has more than 40 members from about 13 countries. Originally from Pakistan, he also directed International Night, which featured a mix of classical and modern dance and music.

He said his club hopes to team with the Mesa Club — a Middle Eastern/South Asian Club at school — to present an international dance event in March. It might also offer games, competitions and food from several countries. Eventually, added Danies, "He'd like to have a countywide competition between students from other countries at other schools."

Choudhry said he began the club because "international students had no place to meet [on a regular basis] to share their cultures, [air] any misunderstandings about other cultures and befriend each other." The club started in October and members meet twice a month.

Junior Alan Quenallata, 18, of Bolivia, said he's made lots of friends from different countries through the club and enjoys learning about the various cultures. When he came to the U.S., he couldn't speak English, at all, but learned it from Danies and his classmates. Said Quenallata: "One of the first words I learned to say in English was 'Emergency!'"

Sophomore Yuri Yasukawa, 16, is from Hiroshima, Japan, and has been in the U.S. since last May. "I was learning English [in Japan] for three years, but still find conversational English difficult," she said. She, too, has met people from many other countries via the International Club and wants them to know her culture, as well.

She said the biggest difference between English and Japanese high schools is that "Japanese students don't move from classroom to classroom."

MEANWHILE, freshman Jessica Galdamez, 14, was born in Los Angeles, but her relatives are from El Salvador. "I joined the club because I wanted to represent the Latinos," she explained.

She also liked practicing for International Night because she "got to learn new dance steps from other Latino people. And we could show [the other club members] something new that they hadn't seen before." And along the way, their American classmates might learn a thing or two, as well.