Brandywine international students share their stories with local preschoolers

MEDIA, Pa. — This year, Penn State Brandywine’s Center for Ethics & Civic Engagement has collaborated with the campus’ international student program to make a difference in the lives of some of Brandywine’s smallest neighbors.

The groups collaborated with T.M. Thomas Learning Center, a preschool in the Chester area that Vippy Yee, Rosenberg Director of the Center for Ethics & Civic Engagement at Brandywine, knew through connections at her church.

“One of my goals for our center was to create community partnerships specifically in Chester,” said Yee. “I thought working with T.M. Thomas was a great opportunity for our students to get involved off campus.”

Yee worked with Deb Ousey, coordinator of Multilingual Student Programs at Brandywine, to design an off-campus service opportunity specifically geared toward the international student community.

“I got the idea from a similar program we ran at one of my previous workplaces,” she said. “In that program, we paired international students from the college with international students at a local elementary school. That was one of my inspirations for the Brandywine project.”

The result was a partnership between T.M. Thomas and the international students at Penn State Brandywine. The students have been traveling to T.M. Thomas and giving cultural presentations to the 3- to 5- year-olds enrolled there.

“Of course, we have to keep it fun and simple — they are pretty young,” said Kennesha Busby, a biology major from Anguilla who participated in the first trip to T.M. Thomas. “But the kids were so sweet and very interested in the program.”

So far, students from several countries, including Anguilla, Vietnam, China, Panama and India, have traveled to T.M. Thomas to share stories, traditions and games from their homelands with the preschool students.

“I showed them pictures of Anguilla in a PowerPoint. They were all scooting closer to the screen and fighting to see,” Busby said. “The student from Vietnam let them color pictures of the Vietnamese flag. The student from China read them a story in Mandarin and wrote their names in Chinese script. It has been sweet to see them so interested in how we live at home.”

One of the biggest hits was a globe — as the students and faculty pointed out their homelands, they helped the preschoolers spin the globe and mark each country’s location.

The preschoolers are not the only fans of Brandywine’s international students. According to Yee, the school’s volunteers and administrator have also voiced their appreciation.

“They are so excited to have that group of children exposed to people from other parts of the world,” said Yee. “It’s also nice for our students to connect with a community that they might not experience otherwise.”

In the future, Yee hopes to incorporate more students beyond the international community — and she hopes that immersive off-campus service will inspire more and more Brandywine students to be active members of their communities.

“I’ve seen students join projects like this and learn new things about themselves,” she said. “There are so many ways to give back wherever you are, even if they aren’t ways that directly relate to what you are studying.”

For more information about the Center for Ethics & Civic Engagement or Multilingual Student Programs at Brandywine, visit the programs’ webpages.