Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cultural Kitchen with Christopher House

Hostelling International Chicago is a wonderful place to stay, with a great staff, clean and comfy rooms, and an unmatchable location in downtown Chicago. In addition to these advantages, HIChicago offers several education programs for Chicago students. One of these programs, appropriately named "Cultural Kitchen", challenges students to explore cultures outside their own and then spend a night at the hostel.

A typical Cultural Kitchen begins outside the hostel, when one of HIChicago's education staff visits a classroom of students at the their school. After learning about the program, the students vote on one country to study. In the following weeks, they study the culture of that country, researching topics like religion, geography, food, dress, traditions, and more. Although it is very educational, this part of the program is only the beginning of the students' learning experience.

After researching, the class travel downtown to Hostelling International Chicago. While at the hostel, they cook a typical meal from the country they studied, share the meal with hostel guests, present their research, and finally stay overnight. Most students learn a ton, and their reactions demonstrate the importance of intercultural experiences.

A Cultural Kitchen happens almost every week, but the group that came on March 31 made a unique impression. The group was not from a Chicago high school, which is the usual case, but from a community organization named Christopher House. The youth studied the country of India and then cooked a wonderful Indian meal -- Vegetable Curry, Potatoes and Spinach in Cream, Chicken Tikka Masala, and Coconut Bars (Nariyal Burfi) for dessert. The food was delicious, but it was topped by their presentation afterwards.

After dinner, the Christopher House students presented a slide show about India. In addition to painting a beautiful picture of this country and its culture, several students shared about their own cultures and backgrounds. The hostel guests learned even more about Nigeria, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and even Chicago. The presentations were very interesting and fun, as was the game afterwards, but it was most rewarding to hear the reactions of the students. In the end, Cultural Kitchen was not just another research project for them, but an opportunity for each student to get to know world cultures more. They themselves responded by saying things like "Learning about other cultures opens our minds to new things", "Cultural understanding helps build peace in our world", and "Learning about other cultures is good practice before we travel". On top of that, they all got to explore their own heritage more and become more familiar with their own cultures.

It is very rewarding to see this kind of influence that cultures, travel, and hostels can have on the youth of today. Most Chicago youth rarely get the opportunity to leave the country, but they are able to "travel" to new places by studying them, talking to travelers, and staying at the hostel downtown. Cultural Kitchen is an excellent program that offers so much for Chicago youth. And those guests that sign up to attend get some excellent food, learn more about other countries, and may even get to learn about the heritage of students in Chicago! What a program!

-Ben Wickstrom, HI-Chicago education intern

1 comment:

Jaz said...

Hostel workers can often tell you everything about the area you are visiting.

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