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Ohio University student Nonkululeko Shongwe, who is from South Africa, engages with children from the Hocking County Children’s Chorus.

Ohio University student Nonkululeko Shongwe, who is from South Africa, engages with children from the Hocking County Children’s Chorus.

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OHIO student teaches South African language, culture, history at local children’s chorus

When the Hocking Country Children’s Chorus (HCCC) started practicing for its upcoming production of the Lion King, Jr., a play that includes many phrases in Zulu and Swahili, the chorus contacted Ohio University’s Ohio Valley International Council (OVIC) to invite someone to come to Logan, Ohio, and teach the children about the culture, language and setting of the play. 

OVIC put them in contact with Nonkululeko Shongwe, who is from South Africa. On Jan. 28, she traveled to Logan and taught nearly 60 children about where South Africa is located, the culture, history, the 11 official languages, how to say “hello” in all 11 languages, the meanings of words and phrases they would be saying in their play, and also how to properly pronounce them.

“I taught them how to say ‘Sawubona,’ which is ‘Hello’ in Zulu,” said Shongwe.

Shongwe was asked to teach the HCCC by Bose Maposa, the organizer of OVIC and the assistant director of the African Studies Program in OHIO’s Center for International Studies. OVIC is an organization that connects international students at OHIO with local schools and organizations with the intent to expand the horizons of local children.

“They were really excited, especially for their characters,” said Shongwe. “We played the ‘party around the corner’ game … and substituted some words for their characters or something else Lion King related.”

HCC Director Therese Karnes was impressed with Shongwe’s presentation on South Africa, and said her students learned from and enjoyed it.

“Her presentation gave a true authenticity to our focus on learning about the culture and languages there, in preparation for our upcoming production of Disney’s Lion King, Jr.,” Karnes said. 

While she was excited about the opportunity to work with the children, Shongwe explained that she was also anxious about the experience before the visit.

“I was nervous at first because I haven’t really been around kids,” said Shongwe. “But when I got there, they were really welcoming. What struck me the most was that the kids were so curious and enthusiastic to learn. They asked a lot of great questions.”

Shongwe also talked about what kind of questions she was expecting and preparing for from the children.

“Sometimes when people talk about Africa it is very weird and stereotypical, but [the children] weren’t, they were very innocent and very curious and eager to learn,” said Shongwe. “They even said ‘thank you’ and that they really enjoyed it.”

Overall, the experience was enlightening for both the children and Shongwe.

“Their curiosity really struck me, as well as their eagerness and their questions,” said Shongwe. “I wasn’t expecting that at all. I went into it expecting something else. When I got there and I met the kids, my nervousness didn’t matter anymore. It made me feel excited and hopeful.”

When asked if she would participate in OVIC again, she said, “I would. I definitely would. I’ve heard great things about the program, I just haven’t been involved until recently.”

OVIC is an outreach program coordinated by OHIO’s Center for International Studies that promotes cultural and global sensitivity and helps to combat stereotypes in southeast Ohio by offering cultural presentations in K-12 classrooms. School districts around southeast Ohio are invited to contact OVIC to have a presentation set up in their districts.

To contact OVIC about participating in the program or to have the program come to your school, please contact Bose Maposa at ovic@ohio.edu.