First Day of School: Global Edition

This post was written and researched by World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh intern, Jill Fronk.

September has arrived and is quickly passing by, which mean only one thing for students here in the U.S.—the beginning of school.  The new school year, means fresh new school supplies, yes some people would prefer a bouquet of pens and pencils to flowers; a trendy new backpack; and, of course, the perfect first day outfit. For the younger elementary school kids, there is the mandatory picture at the bus stop for the parents to have for their memories. First days also hold the possibility of delicious treats either in your packed lunch or waiting for you when you get home to tell your family about your first day of school. These traditions go somewhat differently around the world. Here’s a brief tour of the first day of school around the globe.


Children in Italy prepare for their first day of school by rushing out to buy the most fashionable new smock,or “work coat”; book bag; and diary, an agenda to write down all of their assignments. They each wear a ribbon with the color corresponding to the grade they will be entering. Traditionally, but not in all Italian cities, red is for first grade, pink for second, blue for third, green for fourth, and the three colors of the Italian flag (white, green, and red) for fifth.


In Germany, parents or grandparents give their children going into first grade a Schultϋten, or a school cone, to take with them on their first day. Their beautifully decorated cones are usually filled with candy, toys, and school supplies. They were traditionally given to make school a little sweeter with candies and chocolate. Today, they usually have a more practical application with gifts that will be more useful in the classroom, but the gift giver still remembers its original purpose with a few treats stored inside.


September 1st, also known as Knowledge and Skills Day, marks the first day of school in Russia. Children bring bouquets of flowers to their teachers, and attend a special ceremony. The ceremony ends with bells ringing to symbolize the “first bell” of the new school year. If September 1st falls on a Saturday, students are still required to go the ceremony, and actual classes will begin that Monday. Their first lesson focuses on peace; the importance of respecting others, protecting the environment, and the art of cooperation.


Kazakhstan has a similar tradition as Russia, where each student brings one flower to their teacher on the first day to give them a sense of purpose. The teachers gather all of their flowers to form a bouquet that symbolizes the growth they will have together throughout the school year. Children are given special bags for their first day containing treats, pencils, and candles.


Japanese children face one of the longest school years in the world, 250 days. On their first day of elementary school, children are presented with a randoseru (book bag) filled with unique school supplies; origami paper, slippers, and weeding tools. It also holds their first lunch of the year, rice with seaweed sauce and quail eggs, which is meant to bring good luck. Traditionally, girls were given red randoseru and boys were given black ones. Now they come in a variety of colors and styles. They are sometimes passed down to other family members or neighbors. Otherwise, pieces of their randoseru are used to make pencil cases for chuugako, middle school.


Most children in India go to a government school where there are large class sizes and teachers have a tendency to be the most absent person in the class. This doesn’t prevent students from being excited about their first day though. Praveshanotshavan, or Admission Day, as their first day of school is known, means gifts for the kids. The most popular gift, which may seem a little dull to most but an absolute necessity in India, is an umbrella. The beginning of their school year coincides with the beginning of monsoon season.


In Israel, school is considered to be “sweet” especially for those entering the 1st grade. On their first day, they pass through an archway that is made by the older students, and lick letters that are formed with honey off of a slate. This is meant to represent that “learning is sweet”. Balloons are also released by the older students during the ceremony.


Before school starts in early February, school supplies are purchased in advance because of the huge rise in inflation duringthis time of year. The price of school supplies can differ by 500% depending on the store you frequent. Students in the larger cities navigate big traffic jams and police who control the chaos that always come with the much anticipated first day.

If you want to learn more about education around the world, check out this past World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh blog post, Back to School from Around the World.


The first steps in teaching English abroad

Here at the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, we frequently receive inquiries about the different opportunities that exist to teach English as a second language (ESL) abroad. Teaching ESL to students around the world is a rewarding experience that exposes one to a new culture while also gaining quality skills needed to succeed in a global 21st century workforce.

If you are interested in participating in this unique work opportunity, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • The more teaching experience you can get before going abroad, the better – particular in teaching ESL. This experience makes you that much more competitive during the interview and hiring process.
  • To teach for any reputable organization abroad you should have some kind of Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) Certificate (one example is the CELTA). There are centers across the United States that host classes and certificate programs in this field. The length of program varies, as well as the intensity of the course. You should do your own research, but if you’re looking for examples check out Bridge-TEFL.
  • The amount of support an organization will provide while you are abroad varies on the company. Generally, a school should find accommodations for you, and offer trainings and workshops to help you transition into the classroom. Be sure to do significant research about any organization before you interview or sign a contract!

In some countries, the easiest way to teach is to be hired by a private language school. However, there are a number of respectable teaching programs you can go through around the world. We’ve provided a short list below. It’s always important to do your own research as these are not the only opportunities that may exist. Typically, the best way to apply is by sending your resume to the email address given on the respective websites.

A few well-known programs for teaching English abroad include:

In addition, the following sites provide listings on general teaching opportunities, as well as resources for aspiring (and current) ESL teachers:

Have a good resource from your own personal experience teaching English abroad? Let us know!

Welcome Home to the 2013 Global Travel Scholars! (Part 1)

The Global Travel Scholarship program, a partnership between the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, The Experiment in International Living, and its parent organization World Learning, has sent more than 100 young high school students from southwestern Pennsylvania to participate in travel experiences around the world. The program is designed to provide local high school juniors, especially those from underserved districts, with the opportunity to travel abroad for a summer. Trips range from three to five weeks, and may include a community service project, language study, and outdoor adventure among others.

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the program, with twelve high school juniors participating in immersion trips across five continents. Each student stayed with a host family during part of their trip, while also studying topics ranging from biodiversity to conflict resolution.

All of the scholars have returned from their trips, and will join us for a Welcome Home Session this week to share their experiences with friends, family, teachers, and mentors. We look forward to reuniting with the scholars and learning more about these exciting adventures. For those unable to attend the reception, we invite you to read the compilation of excerpts from each scholar’s essay, on their experience and how it has influenced their life. Part one is provided below, highlighting immersion trips in Asia, South and Central America. Stay tuned for part two of this series later this week featuring trips in Africa and Europe.

 Armon Coleman – Japan

Japan 5“Each day I looked forward to the new possibility to partake in the Japanese culture.  I was able to observe amazing sights, beautiful sculptured gardens, incredible museums, sacred shrines and temples.  As a student, I attended the Sapporo Manga/Anime Gakuin to learn techniques of Anime and Magna. As an honored guest, I visited the local schools to observe the curriculum and clubs of the Japanese students.” 

Justin Hardin – South Korea

539567_696333323725412_1935789004_n “The day we visited the DMZ, we first stopped at the memorial side of it. There was a field filled with sculptures and windmills that represent peace. We also walked through a tunnel that North Korea created in order to launch an attack on South Korea after the DMZ was built. After we saw a quick Korean War video and took many more pictures, we finally went to the Neutral zone overlook. Once I was there looking at the neutral zone and the edge of North Korea, I began to seriously comprehend the reality of the situation of North and South Korea, and for the first time I actually began finding answers to the questions we were all asked about peace.”

Taizhae Howell – China

taizhae great wall of china“We went to visit the Great Wall of China. Upon arrival I didn’t know what to expect. All I could picture were the images inside of textbooks and in documentaries. We got to the tourist area and there was no wall in sight. I was so confused; little did I know we had some climbing to do. After about two hours of climbing over mountains we finally made it to the wall. I was overwhelmed by so many emotions; I had a paralyzed smile on my face. It is the most amazing thing I have seen with my own eyes; pictures do not do it justice.” 

Chelsea Geruschat – Argentina

arg-3“In today’s society the motto is ‘time is money.’  So if we aren’t working or running around like crazy people, we aren’t doing anything productive according to some predetermined social standards.  In Argentina, whether it was talking to local students in Buenos Aires, bonding with your host family in Salta, doing service work in Chicoana or riding horses from the Finca Santa Anita these standards didn’t matter anymore.”   

Josh Patton – Peru

image_2“I can recall the first time I took the “micro.” Basically, it is a utility van that has been gutted, with the insides replaced with seats that have been bolted to the floor (it seats around twelve comfortably.) A man hangs out of the door on the side, shouting the names of neighborhoods that it services. It costs one Perúvian Nuevo sol, the equivalent of about $0.30, and it will take you almost anywhere you want to go. My host sister waved it down, and it pulled up beside us. I took one glance inside, and my heart dropped into my stomach. There were about twenty people crammed inside, all mashed together like sardines. I am extremely claustrophobic. The man in the door shouted, “¡Sube!” which is the Spanish equivalent of “Hop on!” I had no other choice but to pack myself in with the rest of the people. I was not in any danger, just extremely uncomfortable and anxious. However, by the end of the trip, small spaces no longer bothered me. I had overcome my claustrophobia.”

Katelyn Ripple – Costa Rica

DSCF1260“My trip to Costa Rica taught me many things that have changed the way I want to live. From living on a sustainable agricultural farm, hiking through the rainforest, gaining another family, watching sea turtles give birth, zip lining, scuba diving, and just enjoying the Costa Rican shoreline, I could not begin to describe all of the wonderful things I experienced. Even though the rainforest and the homestay were my favorite parts of the trip, every day in Costa Rica contains a beautiful memory I want to share with the world.”

Day 5 at the SSWA: Asia

Chinese President Hu Jintao and US President Barack Obama

To wrap up the week, the Summer Seminar students welcomed Dennis Unkovic, Esq., an international lawyer who is an expert on Asia. Today he discussed the continent’s history, its current risks and US interests in the region. During his talk, he invited a lot of participation from students, saying that his role was to help them connect the ideas from information that they already know.

He began by dividing Asia’s history up into three periods. First, from 1545 to 1945, Asia was dominated by colonial powers. The terrible treatment Asian nations received at the hands of the imperialists left a lasting impression that continues to underlie current relations with the West. Meanwhile, in reaction to imperialism, Japan entered a period of sustained isolationism. Japan was also important for the role it played in World War II, since the US joined the war after Pearl Harbor.

The second period from 1945 to 1980 saw the success of Japan as it rebuilt its economy after the end of the war. The government led this process, deciding which industries to fund, a process which was repeated to much success in other Asian countries later. The US also experienced declining influence on the continent, especially after the Vietnam War and economic recession of the 70s.

Finally, since 1980, the economies of Korea, the Asian Tigers (Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore and Malaysia) and especially China have experienced dramatic growth.India also followed this path, albeit somewhat later.

Should the US be worried that the Chinese economy is set to become the largest in the world by 2022? Read the rest of this entry »

>Ask A Diplomat with Ambassador Minton

>We sat down with Ambassador Minton, the President of the Korea Society and former U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia, to ask a few questions.  Check out the video to hear his thoughts on the current situation in Japan, the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the United States and South Korea, what Americans should know about Mongolia, and a career in diplomacy.

>APAC Thursdays: Japan

>Here’s an interesting read from the BBC about the yakuza, the Japanese who are involved in organized crime.

Breakfast Foods from Around the World

You’ve always been told to eat a good breakfast; it helps your brain. Popular American items for breakfast are cereal or toast, or sometimes eggs, waffles or pancakes. But what do people in other countries eat for that all-important meal?

Surprisingly, vegetables and roots are included in some of these breakfasts. Savory breakfasts are more common in Asia and Africa than in European and North American countries. In Egypt, one of the national dishes is ful medammes, fava beans simmered with garlic. In Israel, breakfasts include a variety of dips, such as hummus, tahini, and baba ghanouj, a dip made from charred eggplants. Shakshuka is also common; it’s an Israeli dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. In Norway, smorbrod are usually served, which are open-faced sandwiches with various toppings, such as herring.

In Australia, an acquired taste is toast with Vegemite, a spread made from brewer’s yeast. It’s not uncommon to see Japanese slurping down miso soup for breakfast. In European countries such as France and Italy, one usually eats small breakfast at a bar, usually consisting of an espresso (or other espresso-based drink) and a small pastry, such as a croissant or turnover. Sometimes little sandwiches like panini can also be found. In Venezuela, little corn cakes called arepas are popular, and can be stuffed with cheese or cream cheese, or served plain with butter. In Jamaica, one of the best dishes for breakfast is saltfish and ackee, rehydrated salt cod and a fruit that tastes like scrambled eggs.

What do you eat for breakfast?

Here are some more examples of breakfasts around the world.