Beautiful Strangers

I was late for the party, and though the scent of warm spices filled the car, I worried that the rich samosas and mouth-watering pakoras were growing cold. Always more of a country mouse than a city mouse, I felt out of my element and adrift without my GPS. Unfortunately, I had accidentally left the phone after a too long meeting on a Friday afternoon/early evening, and had yet to pick it up from the friend and colleague who had carried it home to safeguard it for me.

Frustrated by my lack of knowledge of the area, compounded by my inability to let my friends know I was running late, I contemplated the situation while stuck in heavy traffic in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston.

The driver parked next to me motioned to me that he wanted to merge back into the lane, and I let him in. I then decided to ask him for directions. He motioned me to pull to the side.

His beautiful wife and lively three-year-old waited patiently as he asked me for more specific information about my intended destination. In a Trinidad accent, he expressed to me that since he had some time available, he would lead me there.

As it turned out, I was at least 25 minutes from the address. Ever patient, my new friend, Gary, stopped several times en route to make sure I was following along.

Coincidentally, the party I was heading for had a multi-cultural theme. Hosted annually by our World Language Chair, Kristina Dahlen, the event honors our visiting Chinese chaperone teacher from Xi’an. As the Chinese Exchange Program Manager for the Sharon Public Schools, I look forward to this annual tradition in which our Chinese language teachers each prepare a favorite ethnic dish as part of our celebration of international friendships.

When we arrived at Kristina’s house, I invited my new friends to the party. As a librarian, one of my favorite children’s books has always been, “May I Bring a Friend?” by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers and illustrated by Beni Montresor. In the story, a young boy brings a series of wild animals to the castle of the king and queen for tea. The repeated answer of the king and queen to the young boy’s request is, “Any friend of our friend is welcome here.” Likewise, my new friends were eagerly greeted at the door. Over the course of the evening, we discovered many interests in common, from table tennis to food to favorite travel destinations.

A table tennis match is now in the works between my new friend and one of our Chinese language teachers, Yumei Zhan. In addition, Gary hopes to give our students some hands-on table tennis instruction during SHS Ping-Pong Club sessions.

Food, music and sports are powerful connecting forces. Sometimes, too, a missing and/or lost device proves that not all is lost in terms of human connection.

The poet Hafiz, beautifully describes this need to trust and to reach out toward others:

Fear is the cheapest room in the house

I would like to see you living

In better conditions

For your mother and my mother

Were friends

I know the innkeeper

In this part of the Universe

Get some rest tonight

Come to my verse again tomorrow

We’ll go and speak to the friend together

I should not make promises right now

But I know if you Pray

Somewhere in this world

Something good will happen

God wants to see

More love and playfulness in your eyes

For that is your greatest witness to Him.

Your soul and my soul

Once sat together in the beloved’s womb

Playing footsie

Your Heart, and my Heart

Are very old friends


At Sharon High School, we offer students the chance to participate in a Global Competence Program. The program provides students with the opportunity to earn a certificate by studying about a region of the world, participating in a global service learning project and traveling abroad. Students are teamed up with teacher mentors from a wide range of disciplines who guide them through the program requirements. All students complete a multi-media presentation as a culminating event in which they share about the many ways in which the program transformed their perspectives and world views.

As a librarian, I set up rotating displays featuring global literature and non fiction from specific countries. Diversity is a continued theme in our school library’s programming, and also compliments my work as a co-advisor of our high school’s ADL program. In a current interactive mural display, students have the opportunity to share what diversity means to them. In addition, “Teen Speak Outs,” organized by one of our school psychologists, Meghan Alson, and our School Adjustment Counselor, Margie Mitlin, are held in the library several times a year to foster greater respect and appreciation among students, faculty and administration, and to help participants see how each of us, as individuals, can make a difference in the school environment.

Technology is a powerful force for facilitating global connections, and as library media specialists we are in a unique position to assist through our work across grade levels and subject areas. I am excited this year to be involved with “Global Nomads,” a wonderful program that encourages rich and meaningful student dialogue across cultures through the use of video-conferencing.

I Earn is another fantastic organization which connects students and educators across the globe. I collaborated with our photography teacher, Janine Roberto, last year in an international youth project titled “Photojournalism 2.014: Heritage, Hunger and Food Security” which connected our Massachusetts high school students with students from Tajikistan and Pakistan.

In addition, I have been fortunate to receive grant funding through the Sharon Education Foundation to provide special library programming in Chinese history, music and culture while connecting our students from Sharon, Massachusetts with our exchange students visiting from Xi’an, China.  I encourage all library media specialist colleagues to explore opportunities for cultural grants as well as professional development grants!

I am still in communication with students I met three years ago in Morocco through a “Teachers for Global Classrooms” grant. My world is so much richer through my connections with “beautiful strangers,” who turn out to be dear friends.



Author: Cathy Collins

Ms. Collins has worked as a Media Specialist/Librarian for 14 years. She is currently a library media specialist at Sharon High School, where she has worked for the past four years. She began her career as a reporter who covered business, arts and education-related issues. While interviewing the headmaster at a private school, she realized that she wanted to combine her love of research and writing with a career in education. At that point, she returned to school for a Masters in Library Science and further graduate studies in educational leadership. Ms. Collins has published her writing in various journals including “Library Media Connection,” “NEA Today,” education-related blogs and websites including AASL’s “Knowledge Quest.” She is a 2012 Reynolds High School Journalism Institute Fellow and project consultant for the E-Book, “Searchlights and Sunglasses: Journalism in the Digital Age.” She received a “Teachers for Global Classrooms” fellowship from the U.S. State Dept. in 2014 and is the recipient of AASL’s Intellectual Freedom Award (2014) as well as a “Super Librarian” award bestowed by MSLA (Massachusetts School Library Association). She is a Massachusetts Library System Executive Board Member and has served on the MassCUE Board as PD Chair since 2013 along with the NEISTE Board. She earned National Board Certification as a Library/Media Teacher in 2009. In her spare time, she enjoys nature walks, reading, travel and yoga.

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration


1 reply

  1. It was our absolute honor to be among such awesome friends.

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