Fifth graders from Benjamin Stoddert Elementary School learn about Buddhist rituals at the Wat Thai Buddhist Temple as part of their Embassy Adoption program with the Embassy of Thailand. Image: Royal Thai Embassy.

Asian Embassies Embrace Washington DC Public Schools in “Embassy Adoption Program”

ASEAN Japan Korea Australia China

On November 6th, the Royal Thai Embassy to the United States reached out to of the next generation of Washington, DC’s global citizens: students at H.D. Cooke Elementary School. Throughout the day, the fifth- and sixth-graders learned about Thai culture and tasted some Thai delicacies prepared by their cafeteria under the instruction of the Thai ambassador’s chef. Next spring, the students will put their knowledge to the test when they act on Thailand’s behalf at a “mini United Nations” conference on climate change. Earlier in 2014, the Royal Thai Embassy also invited fifth grade students from Benjamin Stoddert Elementary School to the Wat Thai DC Buddhist Temple in Maryland to learn about Thailand and take part in a meditation exercise.

The interactions between the Royal Thai Embassy and DC public schools were made possible by the Embassy Adoption Program. The program was founded in 1974 as a joint venture between the District of Columbia Public School system and the Washington Performing Arts Society. It is tasked with partnering fifth and sixth grade classes from DC public schools with embassies throughout DC to learn about a variety of topics concerning their host country. Currently there are 50 schools and 52 embassies participating in this program, as well as three sub-national consular offices. Over the course of a year the children will participate in numerous cultural activities as well as give a final presentation about all that they have learned to their host country’s ambassador.

Of the 52 embassies participating in the program, 11 represent Asian countries including: Thailand, Australia, China, Fiji, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Singapore, and South Korea. Many of these partnerships have been active this year. In June, Thomson Elementary School gave their final presentation to the New Zealand Ambassador, which included a puppet show and a rendition of New Zealand singer Lorde’s “Royals.” On April 25th, the Australian embassy celebrated Australia and New Zealand Army Corps Day (ANZAC) with Garrison Elementary School. Several months later, it hosted fifth graders from JC Nalle Elementary School at a workshop by indigenous artists from Queensland, Australia. Via the Korean Cultural Center, the Korean embassy adopted Plummer Elementary School’s fifth grade this year and has introduced them to a host of activities including a taekwondo class. As part of their final project in May, students from the Takoma Education campus gifted the Singaporean embassy with a travel guide that highlighted all that they had learned about Singapore during their program. The Chinese embassy was also busy in May, hosting the fifth grade class of Burrville Elementary School.

Alice Deal Middle School’s Embassy Adoption programs in particular have been extremely active the past few years. According to Michael Martini, one of the teachers participating in the Embassy Adoption program with the Korean embassy, told Asia Matters for America that “throughout the school year [embassy staff] will be hosting various workshops for our students ranging from language to dance and tae kwon do,” and that at the end of the year the school will create an exhibit displaying student projects on all things Korea.

Sarah Batiuk is a Program Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington.