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A Taste of the World: Celebrating culture, community, connections, cuisine

by Liz Lightfoot '77 P '05 '07 '08 '12, Alumni Relations, Community Outreach, IDEA Parent-Teacher Alliance

More than 100 students, parents, grandparents, teachers, alumni, and friends gathered in a festively decorated DeFrancis Gymnasium last week for The Country School's inaugural Taste of the World multicultural dinner. As we celebrated the power of shared meals to bring us together, families arrived with their favorite dish, placed it on a communal serving table, and then sat down to break bread together — and by bread, we mean everything from Chinese dumplings to Lebanese kibbeh, Hungarian chicken paprikash to mac and cheese. The menu spanned the globe, with offerings from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern and Western Europe, and North and South America.

Attendees enjoyed sampling the fare, seeing old friends, and making new ones 
as they talked with their neighbors around and across the table.


Some of the offerings included the dishes pictured here:
Schnitzel from Germany, Mac and Cheese from the U.S., Koshari from Egypt,
Chicken Shawarma from Egypt, Spanakopita from Greece.
In addition to the food, the festive decorations were a huge hit!


The evening began with a Chamber Chorus performance of "Crowded Table" by the Highwomen. Led by Vicki Wepler, the Chamber Chorus invited the crowd to join them in the singing the very appropriate refrain:

I want a house with a crowded table
And a place by the fire for everyone
Let us take on the world while we're young and able
And bring us back together when the day is done.

Click here for a video of Chamber Chorus and "Crowded Table."

We also heard from Will Kneerim, director of Education and Employment for Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven, and Mohamed Hamou, a Middle Schooler whose family was resettled in Lyme after fleeing their home in Syria. (Mohamed had visited campus twice before, once to speak at our 2018 TEDxTheCountrySchool conference and once to speak with students at IDEA Day. For the past few years, the Country School community has supported winter clothing drives for IRIS and participated in the IRIS Run for Refugees.)

Mr. Kneerim and Mohamed shared stories about what it's like to have to leave your country and have to make a new home in another part of the world, with Mr. Kneerim describing how, for all resettled refugees, a common (and required) first experience is a culturally appropriate hot meal prepared by volunteers in their new home. "The way you connect with people is over food," Mr. Kneerim said. "It is an amazing thing to see a Syrian family, an Eritrean family, a Congolese family, an Afghan family [arrive in Connecticut on their first night]. They didn't know what they were getting into — oftentimes in their home countries or in the refugee camp they get conflicting information. They hear that when they arrive in America maybe they will be in a camp at first, and they're stunned when they arrive in America that the apartment is theirs, the key is theirs....  It's a wonderful thing to see somebody show up from their home country, bringing plates of hot food, sitting down at the table or sometimes sitting down on the floor and having Afghan tea first, and seeing people relax and the kids run around or fall asleep. And you realize, boy, this is the beginning of a life. And what are you doing? You are creating friendships and community."

Mohamed and Mr. Kneerim sharing stories about what it's like to be newly resettled in the United States.

As dessert was being served (another diverse spread of tasty treats, including things like sweet dim sum, Hungarian pastries, and Grandma's chocolate cake), attendees were treated to musical performances by parent Rob Nelson, with his daughters, Simone and Chloe, 2nd and 5th Graders, joining him for some Irish music. Assistant Head of School Beth Coyne also made a guest appearance. Later, Mr. Nelson and two other members of the band Elegant Primates shared some global beats for everyone to enjoy.

Simone and Rob Nelson perform together as other families enjoy dessert.
Click here for a video of Mr. Nelson, Chloe, Simone, and Mrs. Coyne performing together.


Thank you, members of Elegant Primates!


There were other fun and creative activities for guests of all ages, 
including an international picture book nook,
a "Museum of Global Inspiration" featuring student work,
and a globally themed selfie station.

From what we hear, everyone left the evening with full stomachs and full hearts. Thank you to the IDEA Parent-Teacher Alliance for organizing what is likely to become a new Country School tradition, right up there with the Family Picnic and Bingo Night. Big thanks, too, to the PTA and all the volunteers who helped out. Finally, thank you to all of the remarkable chefs in the Country School family who contributed items for one of the most delicious meals we've ever had! 

For anyone wishing to get involved with the IDEA Parent-Teacher Alliance, know that all are welcome. Watch the Little Hoot for news about our next meeting. In the meantime, feel free to email Mary Hally, Vicki Wepler, or Liz Lightfoot if you have suggestions for events, speakers, performances, or activities, or any questions or observations.

IDEA=Inclusion Diversity Empathy Action