August 25, 2012

The World Comes to Pullman

Harvest is in full swing.  The giant bowl of lentil chili has been cooked, stirred and served.  Backpacks are being stuffed with paper, books and yes, even laptops.  This can all only mean one thing – the start of another school year.  From little kindergarteners to big graduate students, there is an ageless shared sense of anxious excitement, anticipation and new beginnings.

Before I became a librarian I taught elementary school in an Oklahoma town which, like Pullman, had a major university.  This meant a number of wonderful things – great cultural and athletic events to attend, a beautiful campus to explore and, best of all, an influx of people from all over the world. 

I remember one year I taught second grade when our classroom had children from every continent except Antarctica.  We were a miniature United Nations, run very adeptly by seven- and eight–year-olds.  And me?  I did my best to step out of their way and let them do what children do naturally – share, include, invite, ask questions, explore and have fun.

I saw their curiosity, wonder and innocence translate into, “Can we play together?”, “How do you say ‘recess’ in Swahili?” and “What is that in your lunchbox? Can I try it?” So much to share, so much to learn, so many ways to reach and become friends, regardless of the languages spoken, the clothing worn or the color of one’s skin.

Those same life-changing opportunities await us here in Pullman.  At a recent City Council meeting, Mayor Johnson shared that at WSU this year, there are students attending from ninety-seven different countries. That number represents almost half the countries around the entire globe! The world has indeed come to Pullman.  How fortunate for us all. 

Just like my second graders, we can all connect, share, help, and learn with and from each other.  At Neill Public Library, we are pleased and proud to be a part of Pullman’s diversity.  Every day we have people from all over the world come through our doors to ask for help, get a library card, use the internet, check out materials, attend children and adult programs and much more.  And here’s some of what I have learned from these lovely encounters. No matter where we’re from, there are commonalties that cross all geographical borders: we all want to learn; we all love our children and want the best life possible for them; a smile translates into “I’m glad to see you.”; and we each have the capacity to help make this world a far better place for each other. 

So as this new school year starts, fresh with promises and opportunities, let’s all take a vow to be voluntary members of the Pullman welcoming troupe.  After all, each of us represents the United States of America to every visitor to our great city.  So whether someone is here for a week, a semester or several years, let’s reach out and show them our very best.  In other words, let’s follow the lead of those sweet seven- and eight-year-olds who taught me so much about being friends.
We have much to share, even more to learn and everything to gain.  Ninety-seven countries.  Hundreds of opportunities.  Countless ways to make a real difference in this world we all share.  I’m ready.  How about you?

Kathleen Ahern, Youth Service Librarian
published in Moscow Pullman Daily News, August 25th, 2012.

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