READFIELD — Greg Colombo never realized how difficult salsa dancing was until he tried it during Kents Hill School’s sixth International Festival.

Colombo and other students spent several hours Saturday morning on campus in workshops about other cultures from around the world, including from some of the 19 different countries represented at the school.

Colombo, a 16-year-old junior from Wrentham, Massachusetts, participated in the salsa dancing workshop and also learned a little about steel drums.

“I didn’t know how complex (salsa dancing) would be, and there are a lot of moves and turns,” Colombo said. “I’m a musician, and it was pretty cool to see that percussion instrument can make all those different noises and sounds.”

Anne Richardson, director of international programs at the college preparatory school, said the purpose of the festival, which has been held every two years and will switch to a yearly schedule next year, is to expose the students to different cultures, foods and traditions.

“We have so many cultures on campus, and it’s a way for the kids to share their foods, their games, with other students,” Richardson said. “I guarantee that everybody here tried something they hadn’t done before, and that’s the most important thing today.”

For the first two hours, students attended workshops taught by faculty members and invited guest artists. Topics included African drumming, a Mexican breakfast, French-Canadian cooking and international trivia.

The event’s last hour featured activities and tables led by the students, including food tasting stations, a Chinese fortune reading and an Arabic name translation station by Afghan student Bashir Noori, an 18-year-old senior from Kabul who came to the U.S. in September.

“Kents Hill really does a good job getting these kinds of experiences that we wouldn’t normally get,” Colombo said. “It’s one thing that brings all these cultures together and shows that we are all alike, even though we are different.”

Senior Hilary Chen, 18, was helping with the Chinese wheel of fortune telling. Chen, from Beijing, said she likes to tell people about her culture. She said she also enjoyed getting to try other foods throughout the festival.

Jose Soler, 17, from Madrid, joined other Spanish students at one of the most popular tables of the day, the Spanish food station.

“The tortillas were gone in like five minutes,” Soler said. “Everyone came over and we explained what the food was. Then they tried it, liked it and came back for more.”

Soler said he likes learning about other cultures while sharing his culture with fellow classmates. He’s learned a lot about Maine since arriving in the state several years ago.

“(The big difference) is the weather,” Soler said. “The people here help you a lot and make sure you are very comfortable.”

Salsa dancing didn’t come naturally to Colombo, but for Daniela Martinez, 16, whose family is from the Dominican Republic, the workshop provided a chance for her to teach classmates.

“I was helping people out, and I learned some more steps,” Martinez. “I grew up watching people salsa dance, but it’s understandable that (other kids) would have trouble with it.”

Richardson said the festival is a way to encourage students to step outside their comfort zone to try something they’ve never done before. She said with all the rhetoric and xenophobic messages going around, the event is more important than ever.

“You teach them that, above all, we are a global community, and unless we try new things and understand each other, we are never going to move this world forward,” Richardson said. “(This day) is awesome.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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