Inspiring young minds through culture

Just steps away from Cooke Hall is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that provides programs for K-12 students to connect and participate in the international sphere. Global Minnesota brings world cultures and affairs directly to these young students, thanks to the assistance of their dedicated international volunteers, some of whom are students in the School of Kinesiology.

Arash Mahnan standing in front of students showing them pictures on screen of his home country of Iran

Arash Mahnan

School of Kinesiology doctoral students I-Ling Yeh and Arash Mahnan have been volunteering with Global Minnesota through its K-12 Education program. In this program, Twin Cities area public school teachers and international volunteers work together to create a unique lesson plan centered around culture. An international volunteer visits the classroom three times, presenting a different aspect of their culture during each visit. Sylvia Oxenham, K-12 Education Coordinator for Global Minnesota, explained that the return visit model allows the students to ask questions and build relationships with the volunteers, who also serve as positive role models for the students.

I-Ling Yeh showing students a brain model in front of a picture on screen of parts of the brain and what they control

I-Ling Yeh

I-Ling Yeh moved to Minneapolis from Taipei, Taiwan in 2012, and began volunteering with Global Minnesota in 2015. In the past year, she visited three different schools with students ranging from kindergartners to fourth graders. On the first day of her visits, she likes to share what her life was like when she was the students’ age. On the second day, she teaches them a wide range of topics from her culture, including celebrations, geography, food and how to write Chinese characters. The third day is dedicated to her passion for science, complete with a model of the brain for students to observe. The backbone to all of Yeh’s presentations are photos, and she has found that the students are often very interested in topics that are relatable to them. “The students are very open to things, and it is always good to talk about culture in a very open-minded way,” she said.

Yeh enjoys working with the students, who she says can be “quite funny.” The experience has not only taught and inspired students about Yeh’s culture, but has also given Yeh the opportunity to view her culture in a different way. “I got a chance to look at my culture in a structured way,” she said. The volunteer opportunity has made her feel more connected to the community she has here in Minnesota.

Arash Mahnan came to Minneapolis a year ago from Tehran, Iran, and began volunteering last March. So far, he has done 2 visits with Global Minnesota. He has found the experience very valuable, combining the opportunities to share his culture with others, learn about the American education system and spend time with students. Similar to Yeh’s experience, Mahnan has also found that the elementary schoolers can be quite curious and humorous. “One student asked me how to say seperate words in my language, and then tried to form them into a sentence,” he explained. Another student asked him if they had phones in Tehran.

Perhaps one of the most meaningful moments of Mahnan’s volunteer involvement was when he found 60 thank you notes in his mailbox a month after visiting 7th, 5th and 3rd graders. Each student had written Mahnan a letter thanking him, and sharing what they learned from his visit.

“The overall program is an enriching experience,” says Oxenham. “Both the volunteers and students learn a lot about culture, and it is fun.”

Currently, Global Minnesota has 50-70 international volunteers in the K-12 Education program. They also host events, discussion groups and professional exchanges.

With one student inside it, other young students and a teacher observing a Chinese dragon mask held by I-Ling Yeh

I-Ling Yeh showing a dragon mask


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