Giving truth to Memphis youth
By Kira Tucker, Isabela Salazar & Mikey Thomas (Central High School, Collierville High School & Carver High School)
Since the 1970s, Memphis has chosen a nation to honor—from Egypt in 1981, Italy in 1992, South Korea in 2003, to Panama just last year in 2014—in its annual international salute.
Each spring, amid preparations for the legendary Beale Street Music Festival, World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and other local festivities, Memphis in May selects a delegate of high school students to travel to this chosen country.
Hundreds of student applicants from public and private schools across Shelby County compete in a rigorous application process involving essays, teacher recommendations, transcript reviews and interviews for the coveted once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent their country in an all-expenses paid student exchange abroad. Also, Memphis in May created a curriculum for schools to use regarding the country of Poland to teach to their classes.
This year, a talented group of 11 juniors and seniors were selected as the 2015 student ambassadors to Poland, departing for Warsaw in late March.
Visiting different government officials, experiencing the ambiance of the castles, trekking through famous museums, and feasting on Polish cuisine were all a part of this experience. Every student was paired with specially selected Polish hosts and their families, with whom they lived throughout their stay.
Ajia Graham a senior student participating from Craigmont High School said, “Going to Warsaw opened my eyes tremendously about how widespread the world truly is. This journey has developed a hunger in me to experience more adventures in my life, and to be more indulged in the world I live in. This experience has touched me in an abundance of ways, and I hope to inspire others in the future explorations I will have.”
The American ambassadors attended school alongside their Polish hosts at the High School no. 10 named after Queen Jadwiga of Poland, otherwise known as “Krolowka” the proud alma mater of Polish laureate Marie Curie and home to their famed modern-day English song contest, in which the Memphis guests enthusiastically took part on their last day of classes.
Students attended lessons in a variety of subjects, including Biology, English, Information Technology, Mathematics, Polish, Religion, Russian and Spanish.
After school, students ate traditional Polish pierogi (dumplings), learned how to dance the Polonaise, explored the physics laboratories at the Warsaw Institute of Technology, attended a concert honoring Polish music virtuoso Chopin, journeyed through the picturesque Old Town and immersed themselves in Polish history and culture on numerous museum and sightseeing tours.
In their free time, Polish hosts treated their American guests to shopping, movies, plays, parties, dining at their favorite restaurants and other activities of Polish teenage life.
Some families also attended traditional Catholic Palm Sunday mass and took trips to Krakow to visit Auschwitz and other historic landmarks in the Polish countryside.
In April 2015, the Polish students visited Memphis, where they attended classes at Collierville High School and were involved in various after-school activities throughout the city of Memphis including a meet-and-greet with Mayor A.C. Wharton, Grizzlies and Redbirds games, as well as tours of Rhodes College, Graceland, Downtown Memphis, the Peabody Hotel along with many museums and other attractions in the city.
The exchange, for both the American and Polish students, was an extremely valuable experience. Getting the chance to travel across the world and be immersed into a foreign culture can be a daunting prospect, but the students fully embraced it.
Chris Norman, a teacher at George Washington Carver High School said, “My favorite part of the Memphis in May Student Exchange is knowing that as a chaperone, I am helping students share in the life changing experiences that I had at their age. I definitely carry a renewed sense of optimism that even out of complete destruction, such as that of Warsaw in World War II, society can renew and rebuild into a place of prosperity.”
“It’s a beautiful country with world class experiences,” Norman said. “Most student exchanges cost a lot of money. Memphis in May Student Exchange is free.”