World Affairs Challenge launches in Minnesota: Will National Cultural Awareness Day fly?


Kelsey Larson and five of her classmates at Metcalf Junior High in Burnsville are calling for a National Culture Awareness Day, one day out of the year to reflect on all of the positive things that other cultures have brought to the United States.

The World Affairs Challenge is free and open to the public. Saturday’s event will open at Macalester’s Leonard Center, with student presentations at the Olin-Rice Science Building.

“A lot of people have negative thoughts towards immigrants,” said Kelsey, a ninth grader. “But what they don’t realize is that we wouldn’t have a lot of the cool things we have in our everyday life if it weren’t for them.”

Kelsey and her classmates will make their pitch Saturday, April 25, during the World Affairs Challenge at Macalester College. The event starts at 9 a.m. and is sponsored by World Savvy. The nonprofit organization’s goal is to engage more youth in world affairs.

World Savvy also operates in California and New York City. It opened its Minnesota office last fall. Each year it poses a different World Affairs Challenge topic. This year’s is: “6 billion on the move: Human migration in a global society.” Sixteen junior and senior high school teams are expected to compete, a modest start for the program.

The Challenge has four events, including the team presentations (maximum of 15 minutes), a 50-question quiz and an optional poster. There also is a collaborative question, where students are put on new teams with peers from other schools to work on a new World Affairs question. (Students get the question at the event, but they all get background research to prepare for it during the school year.)

Kelsey’s school had three teams, she said. One team was working on how natural disasters affect human migration, the other on the impact of hunger on migration. Her team started working on its project last fall. They met after school and also spent three entire days on it, meeting at team members’ homes.

Her team focused its project on the United States because it was home to so many immigrants, she said. Its 15-minute presentation will have a skit, slide presentation and song. The scene is a school classroom during National Cultural Awareness Day. It will show students learning how other cultures have affected the American landscape. They will show slides of restaurants from around the Twin Cities. They have a map of how the Asian pagoda has influenced architecture. They will trace the origins of ballet and hip-hop music.

“At the end of the day, they [students] realize all the things that they like actually came from somewhere else,” Kelsey said.

The skit ends with a rap song, a practical choice. “None of us can sing,” she said.

Leadership building

Zach Booz works at St. Paul’s Highland Park High School as a leader for Admission Possible, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping promising, low-income young people prepare for and earn admission to college. He thought the World Affairs Challenge was good leadership training.

An all-junior-girls team (Rare Adam, Nallely Castro, Jessica Dockery, Kia Lee, Mee Lee, Marisol Lopez-Ibanez, Kira Natrop, Brianna Schmidt, Lor Vang, Mainhia Xiong) started working on a project in February.

Lee, one of the team members, said her parents and grandparents came from Laos. They spent time in a refugee camp before coming to the United States, but that didn’t affect her interest in participating in the World Affairs Challenge. “I have never experienced anything like that,” said Lee, who was born in Wisconsin. “I am not an immigrant.”

The group chose the topic of human trafficking, Lee said. They didn’t know much about it and wanted to educate themselves. They spent a day researching at Macalester College and worked on the project after school, too.

They have written a script in a talk show format, telling the stories of three women (from Brazil, India and the Balkan Peninsula) lured into international prostitution. The stories revolve around poverty, promises of a better life, and the power and control traffickers have by isolating women.

The women who are trafficked need to support their families, Lee said. “Sometimes they are tricked into it,” she said, calling it one factor in migration.

Charmagne Campbell-Patton, program manager for World Savvy, went to Highland Park to watch the skit and offer feedback before the contest. The group read from scripts and did some initial blocking. Campbell-Patton’s main suggestion was to add some concrete suggestions at the end. Teams are expected to offer solutions, she said.

The teams still have a few days to polish their presentations, memorize their lines and solve the world’s problems.

Scott Russell is a journalist. He wrote for the Southwest Journal and Skyway News (now the Downtown Journal) in Minneapolis from 1999-2005. He also wrote for The Capital Times, a Madison Wisconsin daily, from 1993-1999.