International student outreach makes a world of difference in local schools

OHIO international students bring the world to Southeast Ohio through cultural outreach to students across the region.

Catherine Cutcher | February 16, 2024


He introduces desert blues music on the guitar and explains Tuareg songs. He shows videos of nomadic life in the Sahara Desert, Tuareg wedding ceremonies, and Tinariwen music. It’s a typical day in November, and Dr. Adal Rhoubeid, a native of Niger and currently a graduate student in war and peace studies at Ohio University, is presenting to a class of students at Alexander High School in Albany.

Rhoubeid teaches students about how French was brought to West Africa through colonialism and is now one of the five fastest-growing languages in the world. The students ask questions about camels, schooling, travel, languages, food and daily life in Niger, French-speaking West Africa, and about the Tuareg people of the Sahara.

The presentation is one among many. 

Throughout 2023, OHIO international students brought the world to Southeast Ohio by presenting their cultures to hundreds of students in Alexander Local Schools, Athens City Schools, Federal Hocking Local Schools, and Southern Local Schools in Meigs County.  

The presentations were given at events coordinated by the Ohio Valley International Council (OVIC), the community engagement and outreach program of the Center for International Studies (CIS), an academic department in the College of Arts and Sciences offering two undergraduate and six graduate degrees, as well as multiple certificates. OVIC promotes cultural and global sensitivity and helps to combat stereotypes in Southeast Ohio by offering cultural presentations in K-12 classrooms and other professional settings. 

CIS has supported the OVIC program for over 40 years, with grant funding from the U.S. Department for Education Title VI National Resource Center’s programs for Africa and Southeast Asia. Dr. Catherine Cutcher leads the program as the associate director of CIS. She has been involved in OVIC since 1997.

"OVIC is mutually beneficial for international students and the schools in our community," Cutcher said. "International students experience American culture in the schools and expand their network in the local community. We hope the students gain a wider perspective on the diverse peoples and cultures of the world.  The U.S. population is just five percent of the world's people."

The OVIC was founded in the 1980s by Dr. Mary Anne Flournoy. A teacher in rural Athens County before coming to OHIO to serve as the associate director of CIS, Flournoy saw the vast potential of introducing international students to students and teachers in the local schools in rural Appalachian Ohio. In 1986, the OVIC program was awarded the Martin Luther King Human Relations Award. 

Alyssa Manning, a war and peace studies major who has served as the PACE Community Outreach Intern with OVIC for two years, reflects on her experiences with the program: “Engaging in community outreach initiatives through OVIC has allowed me to witness firsthand the positive impact it has on students, fostering a sense of global awareness and cultural understanding right here in our local community. It's not just an organization; it's a bridge connecting diverse perspectives and creating a richer, more inclusive environment for everyone." 

When he visited Alexander High School in November, Dr. Rhoubeid was accompanied by Fulbright Scholar Dr. Adom Manu and three Ghanaian students—Bismark Owusu, Ohemaa Ofori-Birikorang and Evans Opoku. They taught about Ghana, the Akan language, the AshantiEmpire, wedding traditions, music, dance, fashion, soccer, traditional herbal medicine and health care.   

The Ghanaians also attended the Veterans Day Assembly and learned more about the U.S. Armed Forces and military veterans. 

Three people hold puppets up to a screen as one person looks on, smiling

Top to bottom: Pittaya Paladroi-Shane, CIS world languages coordinator and associate professor, looks on as Fulbright Language Teaching Assistants Praiya Chinnachat from Thailand, Mohd “Dean” Azman from Malaysia, and Hardi Wijakesuma from Indonesia perform with shadow puppets.

In February and March, OVIC organized Global Education Fairs for over 150 students and their families at The Plains Intermediate School and Athens High School. The fairs are a collaboration between OVIC and the AAPI-LEAD Employee Affinity organization, led by Dr. Yuchun Zhou of the Patton College of Education. They are supported with a grant from the Patton College and funds from the Russ College of Engineering and Technology. Another Global Education Fair will be held on March 21 at Athens High School from 5:30-7:30 p.m. 

Students from the International Student Union designed exhibition tables with domestic American students enrolled in Dr. Mike Kopish’s course Issues in Global Education. Teacher Education majors provided pedagogical support to create age-appropriate, interactive and fun activities. 

The tables featured activities including Chinese water calligraphy, writing names in Arabic and Thai, Adinkra symbols, an Indonesian bottle and pencil game, and a Vietnamese chopsticks and M&M’s game. Participants got to taste spicy potatoes from Bangladesh and Ghanaian chocolate, and listen to music from the cultures and countries represented. 

The children eagerly entered the building and each received a passport. The flags of the world were draped around the room. At each table, children earned the “stamp” (or sticker) of that nation after participating. The Stevens Literacy Center passed out boxes of free books to children and their families. 

The OVIC cultural programs aren’t only limited to presentations and fairs. In April, three Fulbright Language Teaching Assistants (FLTAs) from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand performed shadow puppet theater of the Ramayana to 100 K-third grade students at Amesville Elementary School in the Federal Hocking Local School District.  

On another occasion, three students from Indonesia -- Nadiah Abidin, Pembayun Pujiastuti, and Ira Wardhani -- presented at Alexander High School about the diverse cultures and geography of the 17,500 islands of the archipelago. They taught about Bahasa Indonesian language, demonstrated different types of batik fabrics and fashions, sang a song with the students, passed out coffee candies, and joked about civet poo coffee -- the most expensive coffee in the world. 

The OVIC program is currently funded through the Flournoy International Outreach fund of the Ohio University Foundation