By Sgt. Adam KeithNovember 13, 2013
KUWAIT CITY (Nov. 13, 2013) -- Thanksgiving came early for a gathering of Soldiers, State Department employees and Kuwaiti school children during a celebration of the popular American holiday, Nov. 9, in Kuwait City.
The Kuwaiti students are enrolled in the English Access Microscholarship Program, a two-year English language program, which is designed for Kuwaiti school children, between 13 and 15 years old. Not only did the event offer the chance for them to sample classic American Thanksgiving dishes, they were able to show off their English skills for Soldiers and civilians in attendance.
"Because we are funded by the Department of State we do a lot of work with the embassy, and we try to engage the kids with as much American culture as possible," said Samar Khleif, country director at American-Mideast Educational and Training Services, a nonprofit organization out of Washington, D.C., that implements the English language program. "This is the second year that we've done Thanksgiving, and the idea was that these kids probably have no idea what Thanksgiving is. This allows them to interact with Americans and get a real slice of American culture through the Thanksgiving holiday."
Maryam Shehab, a speaker at the event and a graduate of the program, said she enjoyed the Thanksgiving experience and would encourage anyone to try it.
"I actually got to experience a real American Thanksgiving while I lived in the U.S. as an exchange student, so this is my second time celebrating Thanksgiving," she said. "Events like these open up your mind to different cultures and you become more understanding and more accepting of others."
Shehab, who plans to attend a university in the U.S., said she hopes events like these help the students understand that it's OK for them to experience other cultures and traditions.
Staff Sgt. Jennifer C. Manaday, a civil affairs team sergeant with the 352nd Civil Affairs Command attached to U.S. Army Central, said she was happy to have had the opportunity to attend the celebration and learn more about the Kuwaitis while sharing some of her own Thanksgiving experiences.
"It was very fun having being able to interact with the kids," she said. "We don't really have the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with the Kuwaitis very often, so it was nice having this opportunity, and I think I learned a lot about them."
Manaday said she thinks events like these are good because these celebrations are an opportunity to get involved with the local population and will hopefully lead to more cultural exchanges between Americans and Kuwaitis.
Khleif said she thinks the celebrations have been successful and is excited about what the future holds for the program.
"I think the kids are just over the moon about this," she said. "We've seen them get more and more engaged as we've had more events with the embassy, so we've definitely seen a spike in interest there, and they are just excited to get to interact with Americans. We would love to see the program expand going forward."