Editor’s Note: At the Table is an international exchange program that connects high school students in Philadelphia and Riga. The program, undertaken by the National Constitution Center in collaboration with the National History Museum of Latvia, began the second leg of the travel portion of the project. Two Latvian student-participants, Ieva Kince and Toms Dzenis, discuss their experience doing service with the Vetri Foundation.
This day was one of the best days while being in America, because it was the day we worked on our service project. In the morning we went to a school in which we had a chance to participate in a program called “Eat-a-quette” which is created by the chef Marc Vetri. This program tries to change schools lunch habits in Philly schools.
At first when we arrived there, in the early morning it seemed to be a very remote district of Philadelphia. The building clearly did not resemble a school. When our group entered, we were greeted by the school’s principal. After that we went to the dining room (cafeteria).
The weather was not the sunniest, but the joy of children was warm and made me feel happy and impressed. I noticed the differences between Latvian children and American students of this age (7-12). Students in Latvia are quieter and also more reserved.
It seemed that they haven`t used this new type of lunch, which is everyday lunch for Latvian children. They were eating family style- from one plate sharing the food with others. To us, in Latvia it is a common thing and such common “eating ritual” we do every time when we have lunch at school. I felt a bit proud that Latvians already have family-style lunch, which is still a goal to Americans.
In this project we split up, some of us went to the kitchen to help the chefs, while the rest helped preparing the dining tables. And also the children have to set their own tables, which we helped them do in the beginning. Soon a group of students arrived. I bet we looked nervous in the beginning. Soon after we sat down at our tables, it seemed that the students were more afraid of us than we were of them. After the second group, when the younger students came, it started to get fun.
American students communicated with us a lot and asked many questions about my country, my look and the “At the table” project. It was fun to talk with them and to see the differences in culture, religion, and attitudes. The little children were more open and out-going compared to the older ones. They asked us a lot of questions – How many languages do you speak? Where’s Latvia? Do you like USA? But one of questions what was asked by the only girl at our table – Did your mommy come, too?
To me these children seemed like the happiest beings in our whole trip. Careless and simply happy, even though they were sitting in a school, which I have noticed is not all children’s’ most favorite thing to do?
And I came to a conclusion, that by teaching children how to share with something that is vital to them (like food), they start to care and think in a more abstract level for what is known as friendship! Just like it taught them to care about things around them, including the people around them, this day reminded me to care more about my new American friends from Philadelphia.
At the Table: Connecting Culture, Conversation and Service in Latvia and the U.S. was funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in collaboration with American Association of Museums. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State.