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Window to the World: Outreach program brings diverse people and cultures closer to home



If you thought you had to jump on a plane to learn more about places and cultures around the world, don't buy that ticket just yet. All of the information you seek may be closer than you think.

Faith, Devotion and Worship: World Religions in Central Texas workshop
Participants in Hemispheres' two day workshop "Faith, Devotion and Worship: World Religions in Central Texas" visited places of worship for each of the five major world faiths. Here, Father Aidan Keller of the Christian monastery of St. Hilarion in south Austin answers participants' questions.
Since its inception in 1996, Hemispheres--the International Area Studies Outreach Consortium at The University of Texas at Austin--has established itself as a national resource promoting the study of world regions not only at the university level, but also throughout communities and in K-12 classrooms.

The Hemispheres consortium is composed of four federally funded national resource centers at the university, all part of a network of similar centers at universities around the U.S. While each center at The University of Texas at Austin has its own outreach coordinator--Jordan Phillips in the Center for Asian Studies, Natalie Arsenault in the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, Christopher Rose in the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and Natalie Gober in the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies--by organizing their efforts through Hemispheres the centers are able to use the resources of a large university to coordinate services for students, teachers, businesses, community groups, the media and the public.

And with funding from the United States Department of Education under the Title VI program, Hemispheres is able to provide these resources and services to such a wide audience at little or no cost.

"Our federal government funding," Arsenault said, "has allowed us to promote our regions among UT students--including those who are preparing to be teachers through the UTeach Liberal Arts program--community organizations such as the Austin Children's Museum, local businesses that need country-specific information, the media when they are in need of area specialists and, especially, to the K-12 community throughout Texas and beyond."

"After Sept. 11 we received calls from media, schools, Rotary Clubs, asking questions like, ‘How do I explain this to my kids, how do I talk about this in a classroom?''" Rose said. "I'm proud of the simple fact that by word of mouth the community knew we were here and they could contact us."

"Playworks" of the International Children's Festival
Natalie Arsenault, Outreach Coordinator of the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, helps the Montgomery family make paper llamas during the International Children's Festival (October 2001). Each of the four national resource centers of Hemispheres organized a booth featuring crafts from their respective regions. The festival, in which many different community organizations participated, had over 3,000 attendees.
Every year Hemispheres sponsors a series of seminars and workshops that explore issues of importance. One of this year's topics included "On War and Peace: Teaching about World Conflict." Participants heard lectures from some University of Texas at Austin faculty who are experts in the field. Handouts with lesson-plan activities and ready-to-use teaching materials were provided.

"There's been a shift in teaching standards from geographical teaching to theme-based teaching," Rose said. "We're providing the tools for teaching about any conflict. It's not about Pakistan against India or Israel or Afghanistan. It's about ‘How do I talk about conflict to my class? How do I teach about conflict when there is no clear right or wrong?'"

A film festival organized in conjunction with the "On War and Peace" workshop was open to the public. The workshop's theme, dealing with world conflict, was reflected in four critically acclaimed and award-winning titles from around the world. The festival included: "Not One Less" (China 1999), directed by Yimou Zhang; "Guelwaar" (Senegal 1992), written and directed by Ousman Sembene; "Prisoner of the Mountains" (Russia 1996), directed by Sergei Bodrov; and "Kandahar" (Iran 2001), written and directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

Some workshops incorporate field trips. The "Faith, Devotion and Worship: World Religions in Central Texas" workshop included visits to places of worship for each of the five major world faiths.

"Our goal is to provide teachers with accurate, timely and useful information that will supplement what they may already know about our regions," Arsenault said. "We try to offer a diverse array of workshops on themes that will inspire teachers and captivate their students. To that end, in the past few years, we've offered workshops on the ancient cultures, the arts, the religions and, most recently, the conflicts in our regions."

Each center maintains a lending library with resources such as videos, books, maps, magazines, curriculum materials, tapes, articles, cultural artifacts and more, all for loan and many free of charge. Some resources are produced in-house, such as the biannual newsletter containing lesson plan ideas, articles and information about upcoming events.

"Our lending library is different from a regular library," Phillips said. "We're able to lend resources for an extended time and give students the most hands-on way to learn about a different region. Each center maintains cultural trunks, including examples of money, food, books, music and clothes from each region."

"Kids go nuts to see things they recognize in the cultural trunks," Rose added. "When we travel to each region, we try to bring back some things that are familiar. We've added a Scrabble game, things from McDonald's, supermarkets, everyday things."

As part of an effort to promote accurate, timely information about the regions they represent, the centers have created on-line virtual libraries called Network Information Centers (NICs). These are excellent research resources for students and teachers alike. Within each NIC are links to a myriad of sites dealing with each country, as well as subjects and themes associated with the region. Each NIC also includes a page designed specifically for K-12 teachers and their students. These pages include links to sites that include educational curricula, on-line teaching guides, sites geared for younger learners and more.
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  Updated 2014 October 13
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