Country School Parents Teach History and Culture Lessons About Their Native Countries

Last Friday, Tatyana and Eral Gokgol-Kline visited Mrs. Balasuriya’s first grade classroom to teach students about their native countries of Ukraine and Turkey. Their son, Kai, helped teach his classmates to count in Turkish, Russian and Ukranian as well.
“Whenever I have the chance, I try to bring parents into our classroom to share their family’s history and culture,” said Mrs. Balasuriya. “I have discovered that children are curious about where I am from and whenever I bring up Sri Lanka they are interested. Therefore, when we have different cultures represented in the classroom, I use that as an opportunity to bring the world to them first-hand. It also empowers the students whose cultures we celebrate.”

The Gokgol-Klines painted a vivid picture of what it was like growing up in each of their native countries, highlighting specific memories and elements of their cultures.

Growing up in Ukraine, Tatyana would go out into the forest and collect mushrooms, she told the first graders. Ukraine is covered in golden wheat fields and blue sky, which is why the Ukranian flag has one stripe of gold and one of blue, she showed them. She wore a traditional vyshyvanka embroidered shirt and a flower headband, and told the students about Vyshyvanka Day in May.

She taught students the Ukranian and Russian alphabets and how to count to 10 in each, and shared some of the foods that she grew up eating in Ukraine, where she lived until she was 19. Ukraine was once known as the “bread basket” of Europe, she told them, and it was customary to present guests to one’s home with a beautifully made traditional bread and salt, which is what her family did when her husband, Eral, first came to meet them.

Eral told the students about his native Turkey, just across the Black Sea. He told them that each day he woke up in his home in Istanbul and crossed the Bosphorus, going from one continent (Asia) to an entirely different continent (Europe) to attend school each day. He told them that Turkey is famous for its historical places and events, crystal blue seas, street cats and shadow puppets. The first graders were surprised to learn that while the longest word in English is 28 letters, the longest word in Turkish is 87 letters, and that Istanbul has twice the population of New York City.

"I liked listening to the different sounds of the three alphabets,” said one student. “I like hearing different languages because I like going to different places.”

"Mostly, I liked the photo of Kai and his family in traditional outfits celebrating their special Ukrainian holiday," said another.