From the pyramids of Egypt to the frigid natural wonders of Iceland, more than 300 elementary and middle school students from the York area explored the world at the annual Cultural Geography Fair hosted by York College on Friday. 

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College students spent more than a month preparing for the event, researching everything from the topography, history, cultural influencers, and national pastimes of the countries selected. They presented to the elementary students at tables around the perimeter of the Campbell Student Activity Center. At each country’s table, youngsters got their event passports stamped--perhaps instilling in them a desire to travel and to get stamps in a real passport one day.

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Teams presented food, clothing, language, games and fun facts about 12 countries at this year’s event: France, Qatar, South Korea, Lebanon, Egypt, St. Lucia, Panama, China, Iceland, Spain, Tanzania and Fiji. 

Children attending the fair sampled traditional foods from hummus to fried rice, and played games while learning fun facts and a few words in the native languages of each country. Public and parochial schools from York, McCool, Hampton, and Waco, as well as homeschool groups, participated in the event. Jen Harlow, second grade teacher at York Elementary School, attended the Geography Fair with 20 students. “Geography is part of the standard curriculum for second grade, so it’s nice to bring them and they can see all different types of things in an hour. Having them learn about things like passports is cool,” she said, noting that she’s taken classes to the fair for the past several years. 

Lisa Rasmussen is a second grade teacher at Emmanuel-Faith Lutheran. She brought her class of 22 pupils to the fair for the first time this year. Her response to the event was positive. “I think it’s great that they’ve gotten to learn about a lot of different countries, try foods, do hands-on, interactive things that help them explore the world. Some of the kids tried to come up and say things to me in other languages. They are very excited about it,” she said. 

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At the end of the Geography Fair, young students left campus with passports full of country flag stickers, bags of crafts and coloring pages, and minds full of information about the wide world. Some YC students were left with a kindled passion for travel also. 
Mikayla Brant, a freshman from Clear Lake, Iowa, enjoyed the preparation for her group’s presentation on Fiji. “It’s been fun learning about a new country. I didn’t know anything about Fiji before this...It’s amazing and beautiful. I would love to go there someday!”

Eric Lenear, a sophomore from Omaha, enjoyed learning more about the rich history of China through his research. “I didn’t know they had so many dynasties, or that the culture goes back to  2700 BC,” he said, noting that he would love to visit Hong Kong one day. 

​Some of the college students discovered how hard it is to boil a country down to its essential facts--especially if the country is vast and old (like China) or dealing with conflict (such as Lebanon, impacted by the neighboring war in Syria). Hayley Scoffield from Casper, Wyoming, presented on Lebanon, teaching children how to say ‘hello’ and ‘I love you’ in Arabic. “Learning Arabic was really fun and interesting,” said Scofield who said she learned far more than the elementary children from the Geography Fair. “I thought since Lebanon is in the Middle East it would be all sandy deserts, but it’s actually coastal and has mountains. They are the only country in the region where they get snow.”  

The Geography Fair, now in its seventh year, is organized by Christi Lones, assistant professor of history. She sees value in the project for her students as well as the elementary students who attend. It is a great exercise in research, teamwork, time management, and communication, as they demonstrate their knowledge and collaborative work by sharing with visiting children, said Lones.

Lones’s Cultural Geography class includes students from all majors. One of the key purposes of the class is for students to see that different doesn’t mean weird, says Lones. “There’s value in learning why are they different. You come to a place of respect,” she said. “We’re studying culture as a whole. Hopefully they walk away from this project with a deeper understanding of what they take for granted as ‘normal’ and with a bigger worldview.”