A Personal Journey

It seems that so much in my life has been preparing me for my role as Executive Director even before I applied to work at the World Awareness Children’s Museum. 

One lesson I learned early in my life, a lesson that has helped me tremendously while working at a cultural museum like I am now, is that it’s important to open myself up to experiences outside of my own culture. 

In April 2013, I was fortunate to be able to leave my job for a month and backpack through Europe. I packed everything into a hiking backpack, hopped on a plane, and landed in Santorini, Greece. I spent the month traveling all over the place: Athens, Greece; Budapest, Hungary; Bratislava, Slovakia; Prague, Czech Republic; Vienna, Austria; Dublin, Ireland; and the Isle of Wight, England. I was young, excited, and undeterred by the idea of sharing a hostel room with 11 strangers. 

Ekklisia Panagia Platsani, Oia, Santorini, Greece, April 2013. Photo credit: Bethanie Muska Lawrence.

One of my goals for this trip was to experience cultures that were different from my own. The most vivid memory I have of this is from the beginning of my travels, while I was on the island of Santorini, Greece.

The owner of our hostel told me about the Sunday morning Greek Orthodox church service on the island cliffside, right outside of our hostel in Oia. I woke up very early that morning to wind so strong it made me worried to walk to the church on the cliffs. However, I braved the gales and arrived safely. The service was all in Greek, which I expected, and was also mostly sung instead of spoken, which I hadn’t expected. 

Oia, Santorini, Greece, April 2013. Photo credit: Bethanie Muska Lawrence

Once during the service, a woman came and spoke to me in Greek, but I told her I was sorry, I didn’t speak Greek. A few minutes later, another woman came over to me, started speaking in Greek, and touched my knee because I’d had my legs crossed. Apparently, that was not appropriate at this Greek Orthodox service. I had no idea! I was so embarrassed because, on top of doing the wrong thing by crossing my legs, I was very conspicuously foreign, and I was the only one not wearing black. This was a very different experience for me and even though I felt so out of place, the people at the church service were incredibly nice and even offered me treats (that they usually reserved for children) as I was leaving.

I learned a lot from this experience. I had, for the first time, felt what it was like to be an outsider with regards to my culture. It has helped me act more graciously towards people who are of a different culture than my own. It also allowed me to see the beauty in cultures that are different from my own, even if I don’t quite understand the meaning behind the rites and traditions. 

Anytime I teach children at the museum about different cultures, I encourage them to be curious, not scared. There are so many wonderful things to see and learn from people all over the world; all we have to do is look!

Author: Bethanie Lawrence, Executive Director

Spring Festivals Around The World

As many countries around the world prepare to shake off the shackles of Winter, they also excitedly organize many special events and festivals to celebrate Spring. While this commemoration may sound universal in nature, each country has its own unique spin in how this season is celebrated. From India to Scotland, Japan to Sweden, there’s an amazing variety of special events in honor of this seasonal change. 

One of the most well-known traditions is the celebration of Holi in India. Known as the “Festival of Colors” or “Festival of Spring”, this festival (originally a Hindu celebration) is widely known for the brightly colored chalk which is thrown around during the observance, but its history is so much richer. While the holiday holds a religious significance to many, it is widely regarded as a way to honor the new season, a hope for a full harvest, celebrating life and love, and repairing broken relationships. While predominantly a Hindu celebration, it has been adopted by many other South Asian countries and other nations around the world. Holi is a 2-day festival that starts on March 29th, 2021. 

Another of the more popular Spring celebrations around the world is the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan. Known as Hamani (which translates to “Flower Viewing”) in Japan, this beautiful event known around the world doesn’t just celebrate Cherry Blossoms, but also Plum Blossoms, which can be seen all throughout Japan. The festival is believed to have started over 1,000 years ago, when Aristocrats enjoyed looking at and writing poems about them. These days, the public widely recognizes this time by enjoying picnics with family or friends under the trees in parks or in nature. However, a Cherry Blossoms bloom only lasts 2 weeks, and the art that honors this staple of traditional Japanese life is known as “Mono No Aware,” which discusses the theme that “nothing lasts forever.” 

In Spain, things get a little rowdier with “Las Fallas de Valencia,”, also known as the Festival of Fire. This celebration honors St. Joseph and is popular due to its use of “Falles” and “Ninots,” which means “puppets” and “dolls,” respectively. Every year has a new theme, and falles and ninots creations are put on floats and often satirical in nature, giving the festival a fun and humorous atmosphere. These artistic creations are often made around the city by different neighborhoods and are organized year-round by a Casal Faller, members of the neighborhood who work hard to raise funds for their creations. The Mascleta, a large fireworks and firecracker display, is set-off every year, and crowds often enjoy large parades, food, music, and “L’Ofrena de Flors,” a traditional flower offering. 

While we are not able to celebrate traditionally this year due to the ongoing pandemic, we hope everyone around the world enjoys their annual Spring festivities in a safe, but fun environment. We look forward to exploring the world of Summer Festivals in an upcoming blog!

About the Author

Shane Frasier is the Marketing & Communications Coordinator at the Museum. He’s been with us since 2017, and enjoys our mission of bringing diversity and culture to the greater Glens Falls area.