International Classroom Turns 50

International Classroom Program at the Penn Museum
Celebrates Fifty Years of Cross-Cultural Education

International_Classroom_Image_6web_copyOctober 2011—The International Classroom Program, an integral part of the Penn Museum community engagement and education efforts, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Its broad mission—to increase cross-cultural education and understanding—happens program by program, as international speakers connect with school children, families, and adult groups at the Penn Museum and throughout the region.

Since its founding in 1961, International Classroom speakers have visited more than 10,000 classrooms and other settings throughout the region. At the Penn Museum, they participate in the unique and popular "World: Ancient and Modern" programs, where students tour an "ancient" gallery, learning about ancient Egypt or China or the ancient Mediterranean world, and also meet an international student from that same region of the world to learn about cultural continuity and change over time. In addition, International Classroom speakers also participate in a wide range of Museum public events, enriching the Museum's popular world culture days and exhibition openings. The program currently boasts 160 speakers from 60 countries.

3_Reception_10webOne program has become an International Classroom tradition: every fall for the past 41 years, the International Classroom Program connects with area colleges and universities to offer the region's largest international student and scholar welcome reception, often attended by more than 1,000 people. This year's Welcome Reception is scheduled for October 21.

Prema Deshmukh, who began as an International Classroom speaker talking about her native country of India in 1991, has been coordinator of the program since 1992, and is now Manager of Outreach for International Classroom and a member of the Museum's Community Engagement Department. She is a passionate advocate for the kind of educational experience—informal, often personal, and powerful—that she sees when international speakers meet and connect with audiences of all ages.

"The International Classroom program is more important today than ever, because people are traveling and working in foreign countries more-and people from other countries are living and working in the United States at greater rates. There is a true need and desire to learn more about different people and cultures, whether you are a child in a classroom or an adult in a multicultural work environment," said Mrs. Deshmukh.

International Classroom speakerMs. Deshmukh and other International Classroom coordinators have frequently presented at the National Association of International Educators, and the program has been a model for other colleges nationally and even internationally. Students, teachers, and international speakers, as well as Philadelphia's Mayor Nutter and Pennsylvania's ex-governor Ed Rendell have celebrated the program, acknowledging International Classroom as a leader in promoting intercultural understanding through structured personal encounters.

International Classroom, first called the "Ogontz Plan for Mutual International Education" was created in 1961 at a junior high school in suburban Philadelphia. Founders Evelyn and Norman Palmer viewed the many international students at colleges and universities of the Philadelphia area as an untapped reservoir of knowledge about the cultures of their home countries. Concerned that young Americans knew very little about the rest of the world, the founders developed a program that promoted international understanding between residents of the Delaware Valley and people from all over the world. They envisioned the program as a two-way street: it would also give international students the opportunity to learn more about the United States of America and its diverse communities. Since 1987, International Classroom has been an integral part of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology's education program.

Over the years, the program has received widespread support from American Express, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Dr. F. Hilary Conroy, Ishita Deshmukh, Josephine Klein, the Christopher Ludwick Foundation, Annette Merle-Smith, the Campbell Soup Company, the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage through the Philadelphia Cultural Management Initiative, the Connelly Foundation, the ING Foundation, NAFSA (National Association of International Educators), the PNC Foundation, the Subaru of America Foundation, the Turkish Cultural Foundation, the Turkish Friendship Society of the United States, the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation, and the Malcolm Hewitt Wiener Foundation. In addition, the University of Pennsylvania's Middle East Center, the East Asian Center, the African Center and the South Asia Center, Camden County College and Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia have been co-sponsors of International Classroom programs.

Details about the International Classroom Program are online.

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum), 3260 South Street on the Penn campus in Philadelphia, is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 400 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind's collective heritage. For more information visit or call 215.898.4000.

Photos, top to bottom: Yutaka Nakatoyashi, an International Classroom speaker from Japan, shows “Koinobori," a carp streamer, to students from Hunter School, Kennsington section of Philadelphia.  At last year's International Classroom Welcome Reception, International Classroom Manager of Outreach Prema Deshmukh (in sari) joins Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (center) and Penn Museum Director Richard Hodges (to his right) welcoming international students and scholars from throughout the region. In final image, Manar Darwish, International Classroom speaker from Egypt, shows a handheld sized Qur’an to the staff at the Free Library of Philadelphia.




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