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Nylander (center) is working with a cinematographer to create a documentary about the Box Exchange.
Nylander (center) is working with a cinematographer to create a documentary about the Box Exchange.

Cultural Give and Take

Sometimes you can learn a lot more about yourself and other cultures from a hands-on experience than you would from a textbook, believes Melissa Nylander ’08.  And Nylander is putting this theory to work with her project, The Box Exchange.

The Box Exchange will connect third-grade students from Clinton-Massie Elementary School in Clarksville, Ohio, with students from the Pragya English School in Nepal.  The project is an enhanced version of the classic pen-pal model.  The students from Ohio will fill a cardboard box with items they feel represent them and their community to be sent to the students in Nepal, and vice versa.

Nylander hopes that her project will inspire curiosity and help get the students thinking about cultural differences at a young age.  “Third graders are right at the age where they’re starting to think with reason and understand that there’s a world beyond their world,” she says, “They’re very impressionable.”

Nylander, who is pursuing a master’s degree in early childhood education at the University of Cincinnati, currently works as a graduate assistant at the Arlitt Child and Family Education and Research Center.  At Haverford, she was a double major in anthropology and psychology and says she has always been interested in the mixing of cultures.  When she spent a summer in Nepal volunteering at an orphanage for disabled children, Nylander was put off by the growing presence of volunteer tourism.  “Voluntourism,” as it is commonly called, is a type of project-based volunteer vacation that brings people to a place they might not otherwise visit.  The problem, Nylander says, is that these programs often exploit the area and tend more to the volunteers’ needs than the local project itself.

As a Haverford graduate, Nylander says she felt inspired to create her own way of helping out.  “What I got most out of Haverford was the feeling of responsibility,” she says.  “You can’t leave Haverford without viewing the world through an ethical lens.”

Nylander is also working with a cinematographer to create a documentary about the Box Exchange that she plans to have ready by January 2011. For more information:

--Mike Troup '11

Prof. Anita Isaacs (Political Science) and students cross Founders Green after class.

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