This is part of a weekly series that highlights the organizations or people behind one of the Foundation’s funds.
In 1998, when Merrill David was preparing to bring her adopted daughter home from China, she turned to Global Connections to match her up in the International Friendship Program with a Chinese woman to help her better understand the culture.
The woman became like a sister to her, even accompanying her to the Chinese orphanage where David picked up her daughter. That experience, as well as volunteer work she did with Global Connections, gave David, now the group’s Executive Director, a strong appreciation for what Global Connections does in the local community.
“I always had a very warm spot in my heart for this organization,” David said. “It had a real personal significance for me and I understood the importance of it. So when this position opened up, I knew it was for me.”
The mission of Global Connections is to foster intercultural community and understanding, David said. The organization does this through a variety of programs that assist internationals in the community, bring internationals and Americans together, provide opportunity for internationals to share their culture and educate others about their countries, and encourage community dialogue on global issues.
David said there are people from at least 130 different countries living in State College,most of whom, though not all, are associated with Penn State. The largest numbers of internationals, David said, are coming from China, Taiwan, South Korea, India, Turkey and Middle Eastern countries, and there are also a large number of immigrants who come from Eastern Europe.
“Centre County is an incredibly internationalized community and it’s really a reflection of the global world that we live in now,” David said.
Because of that, David said, it’s essential to think in a more global-minded way, to create a functional community where we understand each other, in terms of language, culture and perspective, and it’s our duty to present internationals with positive experiences while they’re in the United States.
“Our programs really are effective on an individual level, on a community level and even on a global level,” David said. “When individuals return to their home communities, the experience they have here in the United States has a direct effect on their attitude about and understanding of Americans and American culture. And, by the same token, Americans come to better understand cultures other than their own, in a real and personal way beyond a stereotyped sound-bite on TV.”
Global Connections’ programs include the Conversations Partners Program, in which an international and an American are matched one-on-one, for the purpose of English practice; the International Friendship Program, which matches local people with international newcomers for friendship and cultural exchange; and the International Speakers Program, which serves thousands of people by bringing internationals into schools and civic groups throughout Centre County.
“The International Speakers program is a particularly exciting program, because we go beyond State College to rural schools where quite often students haven’t met anyone from a different county, let alone a different country, culture, race or religion,” David said.
This program, and others, is helped by the Centre County Community Foundation through the Global Connections Fund and the Golden Rule Fund.
Global Connections also runs English as a Second Language classes, cultural competency workshops, a Tax Preparation Assistance program, monthly cultural lunches and a Women’s Intercultural Book Group Program, which helps women with their English while giving them the opportunity to get out of the house and socialize.
“There are hundreds of women in this town who are here on visas that don’t allow them to work,” David said. “They are far from their friends and families, they may lack confidence in their English, and they often feel very lonely and isolated. The Book Group Program gives them a chance to practice English but also to get out of their apartment, make friends, and have meaningful intercultural dialogue.”
Global Connections also runs an annual International Children’s Festival, and the World Sounds at Noon performance series, going on now at Schlow Centre Region Library, in which music from a different country is presented each week. This Thursday, World Sounds will present Huan Ju Yi Tang: Music and Dance from China, and next Thursday the music will be Raag aur Laya: Sounds of India. Attendance is free, though a $3 to $5 donation, which will benefit Global Connections and Schlow, is suggested.
There is always a long list of internationals wanting to get involved with the organization, David said, but not nearly enough native English-speaking Americans.
“We really encourage people to sign up to volunteer and we guarantee that it’ll be an enriching experience,” David said.
To learn more about Global Connections and how you can get involved, check out their website or call them at (814) 863-3927.