KUWAIT CITY (Feb. 26, 2013) -- The sound of laughter could be heard as people talked amongst themselves. They sat outside on the sun-filled patio with smiles on their faces as sounds of birds chirping and a slight breeze filled the air. Everyone became quiet and turned their attention to the kids as the high school students and the recent graduates began to come outside.
Service members and U.S. embassy employees took part in a sports day event at the U.S. embassy in Kuwait, Feb. 16, as a part of the English Access Micro-scholarship Program. The program is a U.S. State Department-funded, two-year English-language program for Kuwaiti youth to not only learn the English language but to learn about American culture as well.
"This is a very important part of the program," said Airman Travis Holmes, a cable and antenna maintenance technician with the 386th Communication Squadron, 386th Expeditionary Wing. "I like being around the kids. This gives them a chance to get away from the stereotypical thoughts about Americans and get to know us one-on-one."
Travis also said that he liked the idea of using soccer to overcome some of those language barriers and cultural differences because in athletic events everyone shares the same goal; winning the game.
The day started with service members and Kuwaiti students being teamed together to play soccer. While taking their breaks, the teams talked about everything from game strategy to the differences in schools and even the similarities in the malls.
"This is an opportunity that not everyone can get," said Ali Abdulhadi Alwazan, a Kuwaiti high school student, in nearly fluent English. "I thank the American government for the opportunity to come to the embassy and improve my English. I plan to go to the University of Southern California so this program is helping me a lot."
As the teams played, the Kuwaiti students were able to assess their newly learned language in a fun way by having to speak to their American teammates.
"These sports days are important for a couple of reasons," said Grace Choi, the public diplomacy officer for the embassy and event coordinator. "It encourages these young people to participate in some of the core values we have at the embassy, like being healthy and maintaining healthy habits. And, because they're doing it in English, it helps reinforce some of the things that they have been learning in class."
As the games ended, the players conversed as if they were old friends.
No one seemed to be shy anymore, said Alwazan. They were no longer sitting with just the people from their country, but as teams.