I recently chaperoned a trip for Harrisburg Academy students to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibit from China. Five of our intrepid international high school students braved the chilly, bumpy bus (full mostly of Lower School Extended Day Program students, to their surprise) and we embarked on a day of discovery together.

Having just taken on the position of interim international student and homestay coordinator for the remainder of the academic year, I was anxious to spend a few hours getting to know these young people far from home but hopefully feeling “at home” in our Harrisburg Academy community.

To the high schoolers’ (likely) chagrin, I made an announcement to our younger students while waiting in line for the exhibit. I challenged each of them to come and pose a question to these teenagers from China, Belgium, and Spain about something they’d like to know about the students’ lives at home in these countries. I could see the wheels turning within our 1st and 3rd graders, and smiled to myself at the gift we have in our midst but must remember to utilize — cultural exchange.

We entered the exhibit, and as I was reading the description below a stunning ancient piece of pottery, a particular sentence captured my attention: “The presence of these vessels in the Wei-state tomb are indicative of the cross-cultural exchanges taking place even in tumultuous times.”

I stood back, struck by the irony of my goal that day and the words I’d just read. I thought of the current state of discord and disharmony in this country and in our world. “Tumultuous” is surely a word I would use to describe the unhinged feeling I have when reading the headlines and watching the nightly news. I turned to face the five bright faces of these international students, feeling honored to be a part of their journey here in the United States.

Shortly thereafter, I felt buoyed by the 1st grader who came to our table at lunch and said to me, “Mrs. Graf, I have my question for them. How do you get around in your country?”

And then, I sat back and enjoyed the simple sharing of life… the similarities and differences that make us all unique but so connected, such as riding bikes to school and taking the metro to the grocery store. I turned around to find another little face ready to pose his question.

“We have the bald eagle that stands for the United States. What is the bird for your country?”

I looked back to see true, thoughtful consideration in the faces of the five before they began to respond.

“I know it’s not a bird, but I would say the bull for Spain.”

“It’s the lion for Belgium.”

“Dragon for China” two Chinese students chimed in unison, to smiles all around.

Cross-cultural exchange is so important in tumultuous times. It is the foundation for building bridges and breaking down walls. It is simple but profound. It is necessary, and we are so very lucky to live in a school community that celebrates and encourages it daily!

**If your family would like to support cultural exchange and host a Harrisburg Academy international student, please contact Jennifer Graf for more information.

Learn more about Harrisburg Academy on our school website.