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Spotlight Iowa City: An international flavor

BY SAMANTHA GENTRY | DECEMBER 07, 2010 7:20 AM

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A conductor who previously had touched the community through her music now reaches Iowa City through promoting the cultures of those outside of the United States.

Karen Wachsmuth may have only arrived at the University of Iowa in April, but she is making a big difference. She is involved in outreach with all different groups that are interested in the International Programs.

She first starts on campus, working with Study Abroad and the Office of International Students and Scholars to reach the Iowa City community. And she also helps with the Office of Academic Programs and Services and the International Crossroads Community, which is a living and learning community in Mayflower. It consists of students who are in or are interested in international studies.

Jarvis Purnell, a hall coordinator at Mayflower, first started working with Wachsmuth this year when she suggested that the group involve international students in more volunteer-oriented programs.

"We've really been pushing the International Crossroads Community to have more service opportunities in the UI and Iowa City community," Purnell said. "It's really been about bringing different resources to the students."

Wachsmuth is also highly involved with the International Classroom Journey. During the program, international students make presentations for K-12 students about the culture, art, history, and background of the particular country they are from. International students participate in the various events 40 to 50 times a year.

"Sometimes, schools ask us to come several times for different occasions depending on what unit they are teaching or what country they are learning about," Wachsmuth said.

Lauren Skiba, an intern for the outreach program, said Wachsmuth is a great person and an inspiration.

"She is the backbone of this amazing program [International Classroom Journey]," said Skiba, who is also a former employee of The Daily Iowan. "In her position, she always has to be on top of things that are going on in Iowa City."

The group recently hosted an International Day at Van Allen Elementary, 170 Abigail Ave., North Liberty. It was an all-school assembly hosted by UI international students, several Fulbright language teaching assistants, and the Japanese coordinator. The presentation also involved the UI Afro-Cuban Drum and Dance ensemble. Wachsmuth served as a "connector" between the presentation and the school, working with teachers from Iowa City schools "to plan and give life to the event."

At the conclusion of the assembly, stations were set up in classrooms for students to learn about different cultures. Presenters of each culture taught a dance or game, an art project, shared photos and artifacts, told stories, and wore traditional costumes.

Right now, Wachsmuth is helping to promote international understanding in the community. She said many universities and high schools offer languages other than Spanish, French, and German, but students aren't taking them. Wachsmuth's goal is to encourage students and the community to be interested in other countries and languages.

"International communication is very important during this period of time," she said. "It is not only a way for people to communicate in business, but it is also a way for people to learn about other countries."


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