On May 16, 2023, faculty and students from Montclair State’s Asian Languages Programs in the Department of World Languages and Cultures were invited to participate in Hillside Elementary School’s celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Dr. Wing Shan Ho and Professors Yun Kim and Yahui Olenik, along with their students, organized Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultural workshops for the elementary school children. The Chinese Program made paper craft zongzi, rice dumplings, with the young participants, who also learned about the tradition of the Dragon Boat Festival. The Japanese Program led a “Make Your Own Onigiri” activity where students sampled traditional Japanese seasoned rice balls. The Korean Program offered a K-pop dance workshop teaching students Korean phrases and dynamic K-pop dances.
MSU student volunteers enjoyed their community outreach experience very much and found it fun and enlightening. Minami Gonzalez, an Anthropology major and Asian Studies, Asian Languages, and Japanese minor, comments, “It was great being able to connect local school children to tangible Asian cultures. Events that run throughout AAPI Heritage Month will give these children an opportunity to explore cultures outside of their own, and to bring a more open mind and genuine appreciation and understanding when meeting people who come from these cultures into their lives.” Other Chinese language students, Angelica Mae De Vergara, a Business Administration major with a Concentration in Business Analytics, and Joshua Cajucom, a Computer Science major, were glad to experience Asian cultures that are different from their own Filipino culture through volunteering.
Katherine Martinez, an Asian Languages and Cultures major with a concentration in Japanese adds, “We were truly amazed by the immediate familiarity the children displayed when introduced to onigiri. It was heartening to witness how deeply Asian influence has already become ingrained in their lives, with the knowledge of onigiri being more than just a foreign concept. This realization incredibly highlighted the significance of celebrating multiculturalism, as it bridges gaps and fosters understanding among different cultures.”
Driton Cadraku, a Social Media and Public Relations major and Korean minor who led the K-pop dance workshop shares, “I taught the children in two separate groups: One of the groups learned the dance to Fighting by Seventeen BSS, and the other group learned the dance to Fearless by Le Sserafim. I was surprised that the young learners made the dances their own, and it was touching to see how much effort they put into learning and interest they had in the dances. I’m very thankful that Prof. Kim offered me the opportunity to volunteer to teach the elementary school students K-Pop dances. Not only were we able to teach the children about different cultures, but they were having fun learning about them.”
The collaborative efforts of the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean programs made this event a remarkable success. The event showcased the shared values and traditions that bind the communities, fostering appreciation and respect for the unique heritages. The Asian Languages Programs will continue to be devoted to experiential education and to creating an inclusive environment that celebrates diversity and fosters cultural understanding.
Story by Asian Languages students:
- Driton Cadraku, a Social Media and Public Relations major and Korean minor
- Joshua Cajucom, a Computer Science major
- Angelica Mae De Vergara, a Business Administration major with a Concentration in
- Minami Gonzalez, an Anthropology major and Asian Studies, Asian Languages, and
- Katherine Martinez, Asian Languages and Cultures major with a concentration in