CENET Provides 2nd Annual Fun Day for Area Grade School

Culture in the Community | #CITC #CENETJ1

JACKSON, MO— CENET’s local program, Culture in the Community (CITC), recently finished a 12-day international education series at St. Paul Lutheran School; the culminating event was a Fun Day celebrating world cultures. This is the second year CITC has provided an educational series and Fun Day for St. Paul Lutheran School.

The event reached approximately 250 students, with the support of 25 parents and community volunteers. The students ranged from Pre-K to 8th grade, with 19 classes represented in total.

The international presenters for Fun Day included:

  • Jose Andrés Miño, Ecuador: Jose performed songs & played guitar for the students. He also read a story to the younger students, which he accompanied with his guitar.
  • Shvetha Gohn, India: Shvetha created henna art for the students.
  • Ricardo Ashimi, Hugo Machida, and Enzo Kuba, Brazil: Ricardo, Hugo, and Enzo played soccer with the students and gave a presentation on their culture. They also shared samples of popular Brazilian soda and dessert: Guaraná & brigadeiro.

To celebrate an earlier CITC session on Myanmar, the students enjoyed a tribute to Water Festival, with the older students having a water balloon fight and the younger students playing a duck pond game. In Myanmar, the festival lasts several days– it marks the end of the school year and the beginning of summer. Playing with water is a feature of the festival—one that was enjoyed by the students at St. Paul.

A cooking exhibit was also available for the students to sample and help prepare world cuisines, as well as a craft area where students created Mexican yarn art called Huichol.

Students also won various prizes at Fun Day, which included gift cards to Wehrenberg Cape West 14 Cine, Chick-Fil-A, and passes to Lazy L Safari.

CENET looks forward to continuing the partnership between Culture in the Community and St. Paul Lutheran School. A gallery of photos from Fun Day may be viewed below:

Special thanks to area sponsors for donating supplies and prizes for Fun Day: MidAmerica Corporation, Lazy L Safari, Chick-Fil-A, Rental Land, Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart, Country Mart, and Popeyes Chicken. The support and generous donations helped make Fun Day a success. 

Additional support and funding for the educational series at St. Paul Lutheran School came from the following local businesses and individual donors: Baer & Edington, Abe & Emily Funk, David & Tara McMullin, John & Taffy McMullin (John’s Pharmacy), Todd & Donna Ward, and Jackson Medical Center. 

Thank you to all of our sponsors for supporting international education at St. Paul Lutheran School! 

CENET strives to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration. For more news and updates about CENET, please visit our Facebook Page.

CENET Hosts Culture in the Community Benefit

By Leslie Corn

Culture in the Community | #CENETJ1 #CITC

ALTO PASS, IL– On April 27, 45 community members attended “Taste of Sweden,” a culinary and wine event benefitting CENET’s local program, Culture in the Community.

The event was held at Hedman Vineyards, operated by Swedish natives, Gerd and Anders Hedman. Each ticket included a 3-course dinner with wine pairings and a welcome drink. Guests were provided with a brief overview of Culture in the Community by CENET Executive Director, Robyn Walker, as well as a menu description by Gerd Hedman. A former Rotary high school exchange student, Amelia Blakely, also shared about her exchange experience in Sweden.

Proceeds from a “Taste of Sweden” will be used to provide scholarships for area students to attend the world-renowned language immersion programs offered by Concordia Language Villages. 

Thank you to the community members who supported “Taste of Sweden.” Special thanks to Secutive for sponsoring a portion of the evening, and to Hedman Vineyards for donating the event space.

To learn more about Culture in the Community or to be added to our mailing list, please contact CENET.

CENET strives to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration. For more news and updates about CENET, please visit our Facebook Page.


CENET Volunteers at Community Event in Wisconsin Dells

By Leslie Corn

Community Support Groups | #CENETJ1

CENET recently traveled to Wisconsin Dells to volunteer at a local event for Work and Travel students and to attend The Wisconsin Dells Annual Employer and Community Forum.

Prior to the forum, CENET volunteered at a community event that attracted approximately 360 Work and Travel students. The event provided ice skating and dinner, at no charge to the participants. Volunteers from Bridgepoint Church, community members, and several sponsor representatives helped make the event a success.


The following day, CENET attended The Wisconsin Dells Annual Employer and Community Forum. The morning began with a welcome address from Mayor Brian Landers, followed by a presentation from Department of State official, Shelia Grant; Grant’s session included a program overview, regulatory updates, and suggested best practices. After the presentation, breakout sessions took place, emphasizing cultural events, safety & transportation, social security, and the community support group.

The local media covered the forum; the piece may be read here.

To learn more about the event, or to inquire about a J-1 community support group in your area, please contact CENET  

CENET strives to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration. For more news and updates about CENET, please visit our Facebook Page.

Culture in the Classroom Provides Presentations for 200 Local High School Students

By Leslie Corn

Local Impact | #CITC #CENETJ1

SIKESTON, MO– On Wednesday, March 29, Culture in the Classroom visited the Spanish classrooms at Sikeston High School.

Approximately 200 students were provided authentic, international education, with a focus on Costa Rican culture. CENET staff member and native of Costa Rica, Brayan Rueda, shared about the geography, language, and customs of his home culture. A highlight of the visit included a sampling of gallo pinto, a Costa Rican cuisine, paired with fresh limeade; the culinary addition fit into the classroom’s recent unit on foods.

The students were attentive and energetic, and the hosting teachers expressed gratitude to CENET. One teacher shared, “My students loved it…thank you so much! I definitely hope we can continue to do more presentations in the future.”

Culture in the Classroom is part of CENET’s local program, Culture in the Community. The programs utilize Southeast Missouri State University’s exchange students, local residents from other countries, and CENET staff to provide authentic, interactive education about world cultures. Each Culture in the Classroom program offers tailored curriculum to match the needs of the specific school or group. If you are interested in booking a session or learning more about the program, please email cenet@cenet.org or call 573-335-7111 during regular business hours.

CENET will also be hosting an upcoming culinary and wine event, “Taste of Sweden,” an authentic Swedish experience. All proceeds will benefit Culture in Community. For more details or to purchase tickets, please visit: https://tasteofsweden.eventbrite.com

CENET strives to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration. For more news and updates about CENET, please visit our Facebook Page.

CENET Facilitates J-1 Community Forum with Department of State and Fellow Program Sponsors

By Leslie Corn

Community Support Group | #BransonJ1 #CENETJ1

BRANSON, MO–On February 28, approximately 50 community members gathered with Department of State officials, CENET staff, and representatives from fellow sponsors Intrax and CIEE to discuss the J-1 visa program and lay the groundwork for another successful Summer Work and Travel (SWT) season.

The goal of the of the J-1 Community Forum is to promote greater community engagement and cultural exchange, and to discuss methods to ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of all J-1 students in the Branson area.

The recent forum met its objectives through the following discussion topics and presentations: the responsibilities of SWT host employers, participants, and sponsors; initiatives of the International Student Outreach Program (ISOP) and how to get involved; panel discussions with J-1 visa sponsors and the U.S. Department of State; and lastly, networking opportunities with local host employers and other major SWT stakeholders.

Attendees were given the opportunity to learn more about the J-1 SWT program and its importance to the Branson economy and community.

Special thanks to Michael James and Ethan Bursofsky from the U.S. Department of State for attending the event. Additional thanks to our fellow sponsor representatives, Stacie Tollaksen with Intrax and Lauren Kelly with CIEE.

Although CENET is headquartered in Cape Girardeau, MO, an additional office is located in the Springfield/Branson area. CENET’s Branson-based staff members participated in the J-1 Community Forum, and CENET’s Executive Director, Robyn Walker, also attended.

The next community meeting in Branson is scheduled for Wednesday, March 22, 11am- 12pm at Taneyhills Community Library. Please mark your calendars for a planning meeting to discuss Branson student handbooks, bransonj1.com website content, and cultural activities for exchange visitors.  For more event information or for ways to get involved with the Branson J-1 community, please email cenet@cenet.org

CENET strives to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration. For more news and updates about CENET, please visit our Facebook Page.



Scholarship Winners Return to Southeast Missouri After Cultural Immersion Program

By Leslie Corn

Culture in the Community | #CITC #CENETJ1

This summer, CENET selected four area students to receive full scholarships to attend Concordia Language Villages (CLV) in Bemidji, Minnesota. The scholarships were provided in partnership between CENET & CLV.

CLV is one of the world’s premier immersion language learning programs.The area scholarship winners included:

•Maggie Shelton, 17, of Jackson, MO, who will study Arabic for four weeks.

•Jake Shelton, 12, of Jackson, MO, who will study Portuguese for two weeks.

•Chance Earles, 11, of Carbondale, IL, who will study Portuguese for two weeks.

•Mariena Collins, 11, of Jackson, MO, who will study Chinese for one week.

The local students have returned home and shared their experiences with CENET:

Mariena Collins, age 11

Mariena attended CLV’s Chinese Village, Sēn Lín Hú. She was immersed into a world full of rich, Chinese culture where she was “excited to try new things.” Mariena enjoyed sharing her unique American culture with friends that she met from Africa, England, Italy, and all over the United States. They played a variety of games, including one about Harry Potter and a Chinese game called Jianzi, which is similar to Hacky Sack. On her experience at CLV, Mariena added, “everything is a challenge and a new obstacle and everyone tries to help you. That’s why I think everyone should be immersed at least once in an experience like this.  I learned so much about the culture and language.”

Photo of the Jianzi shuttlecock Mariene brought home with her.

Jake Shelton, age 12

Jake Shelton attended CLV’s Portuguese camp, Mar e Floresta. During camp, Jake went by his chosen Portuguese name, Leonardo. He shared that the counselors and fellow campers made him “feel safe and like we were one big family.” A few of the activities that took place in his Village were Portuguese art, Disco-Techa, and futbol. Jake made great friends at camp. He stated, “My best friend was Christiano, he was a lot like my best friend here in Jackson.”


Jake Shelton smiles with friends at CLV.

Maggie Shelton, age 17

Maggie Shelton attended the CLV Arabic Village for high school credit. She spent an entire month immersed in the Arabic Village, Al-Wāḥa. Maggie went by her chosen Arabic name, لو لو , which spells “LuLu.” Maggie’s assignments included: a poem, a presentation, a portfolio, a family tree, an interview, and a mid-term and final exam– all in Arabic!

Maggie enjoyed her time at CLV. Her favorite activities were learning the songs and dances of her Village. At the camp’s International Day, Maggie became involved with the Global Summit where they discussed issues in relation to the Paris Agreement pertaining to climate change. This event was very inspiring for Maggie, as she was able to see how treaty meetings are conducted. She was also involved in certain camp counselor duties for an evening shift of “manning the camp’s well.” Maggie is excited to continue her studies in Arabic and use the skills she obtained at CLV throughout her academic and professional endeavors.

All of the Villagers were invited to participate in an activity in which they were to speak only the language of their Village for an entire day. Jake, Maggie, and Mariena participated in the challenge. They reported they enjoyed the activity, even though it was very intensive and difficult at times. The scholarship winners have shared that they are hopeful to return to CLV in the future.

To learn more about the experiences of the scholarship winners, check out the feature published by the Southeast Missourian. 

CENET strives to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration. For more news and updates about CENET, please visit our Facebook Page.



Branson Mayor Honors J-Day Ambassadors for Service in Host Community

By Leslie Corn

J-Day Give | #EatPlayGive #CelebrateJDay #CITC

BRANSON, MO– On Monday, August 1, Mayor Karen Best addressed a crowd of 230 J-Day attendees to not only thank the J-1 community for spending their summer vacations in Branson, but also to award Certificates of Achievement to the specially selected J-Day Ambassadors.

Under the motto “Eat Play Give,” J-Day merges service with celebration. Before the J-Day party commenced at Moonshine Beach, 10 J-Day Ambassadors participated in CENET’s Culture in the Community (CITC) program. CITC is an initiative that brings authentic international education to area groups and schools, with a special emphasis on low-income and undeserved schools and communities.

Through CITC, the J-Day Ambassadors spent the morning sharing their cultures with children ages 4-12 at the Ozark Mountain Family YMCA.

The program began with a skit involving would-be tourists attempting to embark on a trip around the world, only to find they have arrived at the YMCA and not the airport. The Griswold-esque couple urges the children to learn as much about each country as possible, so they may report the information back to them.

The J-Day Ambassadors were set up in country stations and the children rotated “around the world” in small groups to learn about each country. The stops included China, Dominican Republic, Ukraine, Turkey, Jamaica, India, Bangladesh, and a map station. The children sampled authentic foods from each country; they also enjoyed photos, postcards, traditional clothing, currency, music, dance, and other cultural selections made by the J-Day Ambassadors.

Senator Blunt sent two office representatives to the Culture in the Community segment: Joelle Cannon, District Office Director (Springfield, MO) and Richard Eddings, Scheduler (Washington, D.C.). Both were able to meet the J-Day Ambassadors  and  visit their country stations.

It was an honor to spend time with the J-1 Ambassadors and watch local youth learn first-hand about different cultures across the world. Culture in the Community is an exciting CENET initiative and we really enjoyed being part of the celebration of these great students!

-Joelle Cannon, Office of U.S. Senator Roy Blunt

In addition, Senator McCaskill’s District Office Director, David Stokeley, was able to join the J-Day celebration and congratulate the J-Day Ambassadors honored by Mayor Best. David Stokeley also met with J-1 host employers, various J-1 participants, and a 7-year old boy who attended the CITC morning session.

Senator McCaskill, Senator Blunt, Mayor Best, and Ozark Mountain Family YMCA took to social media to support J-Day and the applaud the J-Day Ambassadors:

Mayor Best presented Certificates of Achievement to the J-Day Ambassadors:

  • Yerlin De La Cruz
  • Yiwen Cao
  • Rushanda Pitt
  • Emelisa Norberto Cisnero
  • Akash Patel
  • Berna Gulen
  • Berda Akar
  • Chuting Pi
  • Valeriia Zahorska
  • Ayesha Kadri, CENET Staff Ambassador

The J-Day Ambassadors reported positive feedback about the CITC service event. A few of the J-Day Ambassador’s responses are included below.

Yerlin, J-Day Ambassador:

I enjoyed participating in Culture in the Community too much. It is important to share my culture because other people can know about it and be interested in visiting my country. I see value in teaching children about other countries. The children showed interest when we talked about our cultures and they listened and asked questions about it. Participating in Culture in the Community is a valuable opportunity for J-1 participants. I think the program is excellent and it was a pleasure. I’m so proud to be part of this amazing experience. I enjoyed sharing with the kids and teaching them about my culture. Thank you!

Emelisa, J-Day Ambassador:

I enjoyed participating in Culture in the Community a lot. Sharing cultures is extremely important because as you share something about your country, other people may be interested in learning more and visiting. It’s very valuable to teach children about other cultures. With this group, I was impressed to see the children paying attention and showing concern by asking us questions about the differences between our meals, moneys, birds, and more. It is a great opportunity for J-1 participants. I am very grateful and happy to have been selected to participate in this great activity where I could meet those wonderful children.

Chuting, J-Day Ambassador:

I think participating in Culture in the Community is my precious experience in America. I really enjoyed it. It is important to share cultures. I am proud of my country and I love my culture. I want others to have correct understanding about my country. Introducing Chinese culture may let them visit China one day, seeing what I see. There is value teaching children about cultures because children have a strong acceptance ability. Teaching them about other cultures can broaden their horizons. The children with whom I shared my culture with have strong curiosity and respect for other cultures. They listened to me carefully and asked me what they wanted to know. I think every J-1 participant desires to have such a wonderful chance to participate in Culture in the Community. CENET should choose even more countries and participants to represent their countries!

 Akash, J-Day Ambassador:

I enjoyed participating in Culture in the Community a lot. It is important to share my culture so the new generation will know how there are the different cultures in the world going on and they can meet new people of different cultures. That can also help them when they meet new people. I see value in teaching children about other cultures and my impression of the children was good. It’s absolutely valuable for CENET to extend this kind of opportunity for more J-1 participants. I would like to thank CENET wholeheartedly for giving me this opportunity and allowing me to be a participant as a J Day Ambassador! If CENET needs any kind of help from me to promote this program, I would appreciate doing so.

Ayesha Kadri, CENET Staff Ambassador:

As a staff member at CENET and as an international student from Bangladesh, I had a spectacular time participating in Culture in the Community and showing the YMCA students my culture.

I believe it’s very important to not only share my culture, but also to learn about other cultures as well. Often, individuals may not have the means necessary to be exposed to different cultural backgrounds and activities. For me, it’s important to participate in Culture in the Community, as young students may have never heard of Bangladesh, let alone be familiar with its culture. A small hint of knowledge or information can be the spark that ignites a whole new world for young individuals!

I see immense value in teaching children about other countries and cultures. Oftentimes, children may learn opposing views or wrong information about a different culture. This may lead to stereotypes and doubts when meeting an individual from that respective culture. By teaching children about other cultures, we are giving them a platform to be curious, to ask questions, and to learn while being exposed to a different culture in a fun and safe environment.

I’ve participated in countless Culture in the Community presentations, but this by far my favorite. The children all seemed very eager to learn about all the different counties. They were excited to try to new snacks and see the differences represented by each country. To see them be so accepting and happy about learning filled me with pride in what I do, as a CENET staff member and as an international individual.

I believe it’s very valuable for CENET to extend this opportunity to more J-1 participants. I remember hearing many J-1 participants state that they were eager to share their culture with others, especially with children who were so eager to learn! This activity promotes an engagement that goes well beyond learning through textbooks and the internet. It’s hands-on; the children can see, feel, taste, and hear – giving them a true experience for their senses and meeting varying learning styles.

Thank you to our wonderful J-Day Ambassadors for their commitment to increased global knowledge and greater cultural understanding. Special thanks to the following: the J-1 host employers for adjusting schedules for the J-Day Ambassadors; Ozark Mountain Family YMCA for hosting CITC; CENET’s Branson Coordinator, Abigail Palmer, for arranging transportation for the J-Day Ambassadors; CENET staff member, Ayesha Kadri, for sharing her culture as a Staff Ambassador; community advocates and CENET support staff, Rick & Debra Chastain, for serving as zany, lost tourists in the skit; Mayor Karen Best for presenting awards to the J-Day Ambassadors; and lastly, thank you to the offices of U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill and U.S. Senator Roy Blunt for supporting J-Day and J-1 exchanges. 

CENET strives to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration.For more news and updates about CENET, please visit our Facebook Page. To read more about J-Day, please click here.