Warwick Academy’s intercultural expression
Bermuda — a stunning tropical island with blue skies, pink sand, and lush greenery. This island, all 21 miles of it, is our home.
Many of us who call this haven “home” have travelled here from around the world. As we travelled, we enclosed our experiences in the soft, tender rounds of our palms. Once we arrived, we opened our hands and our hearts; we offered what we had.
Therefore, it is no surprise that the place we call home is also home to its own distinctive and diverse variety of culture.
But what is culture? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines culture as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group”.
In order to understand what this means, especially in a school setting, it was crucial to hear from students and teachers.
With International Day at Warwick Academy on Friday, April 27, the perfect opportunity arose to inquire into these aspects.
International Day is an event in the school’s calendar where the internationality of the world as well as aspects of the cultures that come with it, such as food, dance and clothing, are substantially focused on throughout the day. Essentially, it is a time where the school concentrates collectively on celebrating, sharing and learning more about the world.
Abena Okanta-Ofori is not only the Head of the Modern Foreign Languages Department; she is also the founder of International Day.
Ms Okanta-Ofori said: “International Day was started about fourteen years ago.
“I think it was something the school needed … a whole school event — both primary and secondary, that brought us together to celebrate culture and diversity and that encouraged open-mindedness and tolerance. I wanted it to be more about sharing.”
Speaking of sharing, Ms Okanta-Ofori’s experiences exemplify that. She was born in the United Kingdom and then raised in Ghana until the age of 5, when she moved back to the United Kingdom.
She’s been living and teaching in Bermuda, at Warwick Academy for numerous years and has noticed similarities between Bermudian culture and Ghanaian culture.
“We have Gombeys, too!” she said this week.
These Ghanaian versions of Gombeys that Ms Okanta-Ofori comments on also dance at important events and look very similar to Bermudian Gombeys. She added: “There are rigid cultural norms [in Ghanaian culture] but that is slowly changing.”
Change. This is one of the reasons that motivated Ms Okanta-Ofori to establish International Day within the school.
“I wanted it to be inclusive, and to get people to do things differently,” she explained.
She has definitely achieved that aim. During the morning assembly, which really sets the electric atmosphere of the day, visitors and students from other schools are often invited to perform.
This year, the Whitney Middle School Drum Line performed a very lively beat, and dancers from In Motion School of Dance performed.
At recess, there was a huge feast in the quad, as students and staff bring in dishes from around the world to share. In the afternoon, she changes up the usual programme.
Instead of classes, students participate in interactive workshops which incorporate aspects of different cultures and concentrate on creating dialogue.
“The workshops were created so that students and teachers are given an opportunity to learn and do something different outside the usual classroom environment,” Ms Okanta-Ofori said. “[And] when you get food involved ... well, everyone loves food!”
Shabnam Kolia led one of these afternoon workshops to teach eager students how to cook samosas, an appreciative nod to her heritage. “My parents are from India so I’m of Indian ethnicity, but in terms of nationality I’m American,” Ms Kolia said. “And I’ve been in Bermuda for a while now [I am] hoping to get renewed citizenship within the next year or so.”
Ms Kolia has been teaching at Warwick Academy for nine years.
“I taught in New York City, at two different schools. In New York, there was quite a variety of cultures,” she said. “A lot of my students were Hispanic, many of them had roots in Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
“I had students from different parts of the Middle East and American students with Indian backgrounds.”
Ms Kolia then spoke about her experience growing up as an American with an Indian background. “My family is actually Muslim. I’ve grown up going to a mosque. But I’ve also [experienced] my parents’ friends … who are Hindu. I’ve grown up going to Diwali and Holi events.”
Similar to Ms Okanta-Ofori, Ms Kolia has found a way to express her culture at school.
On Wednesdays, she wears traditional Indian dress.
“International Day isn’t just one day of the year. It’s every day. Me wearing Indian dress on Wednesdays, I’m trying to show that you can be professional yet be representing your culture.
“It’s important to realise there’s not just the Western way to dress professionally. I’ve had nothing but positive feedback.’
Hannibal Ladegaard is a seventeen-year-old exchange student from Denmark where he attended a Catholic school named St Norbert’s.
He speaks fluent Danish, which he says is a big part of their culture.
He also speaks English, and has been attending Warwick Academy for the duration of this year. He was asked if Warwick Academy gave him an opportunity to express his culture and allowed him to feel comfortable with being someone with a very different cultural background than Bermuda.
“Yeah, I’d say so. Definitely. People [at Warwick Academy] helped me ease into it,” he said. “People [at Warwick Academy] are very open. Because of the diversity here, people open up and are like, okay, welcome, you’re a part of the group now.
“In Denmark, I think that you have to be like everyone else to be a part of the group. I think that in Denmark, there’s a lot of racial segregation still.”
He notices other culture differences between Denmark and Bermuda, such as the level of diversity and the diet. “Diversity here, is very different. Denmark is 90 per cent white. The foods we are very focused on meat. If you don’t eat this, you aren’t a part of the culture.”
“While there are definite differences between Denmark and Bermuda, there are also similarities. Since our entire country is Christian, then we follow a lot of the Christian traditions. So, Easter’s a big thing for us, and also Christmas, of course.
“In our culture … we have a Danish word called hygge, which means, like being cozy with people, being together with people. We meet at Easter or anytime and sit down and relax.”
His enjoyment of traditional Bermudian Good Friday celebration was no surprise then, as it is similar to hygge.
“I really like some of the stuff [Bermudians] do [for] the holidays, like the AG [Agricultural Exhibition] show and … on Good Friday, the kites.”
He believes student exchange programmes are an important aspect of education. Living somewhere and going somewhere on vacation are not the same. They enable you to immerse yourself in the country’s culture and to experience it to a greater extent. As Hannibal says, such programmes help you to “open your eyes”.
He added: “Today there is more appreciation of different culture … and languages … We’re moving to a place where more and more diversity is accepted.”
This is definitely the case at Warwick Academy. Culture is something that connects us all, in one way or another, to each other. It is something to be appreciated, respected, shared and celebrated.
It is something we should all be proud to express. With that being said, the school strives to cultivate its own unique culture experiences of everyone in its community.
David Horan, principal of Warwick Academy, used a word to describe the kind of environment Warwick Academy is nurturing: inter-culturalism.
This means that individuals, through interactions with each other, can create positive relations between their cultures in a way that is founded on equity and mutual respect.
International Day is a clear example of inter-culturalism taking place at Warwick Academy. It is also an ideal time to explore culture and its meaning with a school setting.
International Day is a clear demonstration to foster inter-culturalism within its locality, as well as encourage its students to possess a global mind set.