Photo courtesy Chihoko Sato.
In a cozy Bethesda living room, 15 parents from eight different countries gathered in a circle this November. Sitting on sofas and chairs, they laughed, drank homemade lemon tea, ate fruit cake and discussed their favorite quotes and characters from “The Alchemist.” Since most parents are international, they offered unique cultural insights on the book. Welcome to Whitworld, a lively Whitman parent club where everyone is welcome, whether they’re from around the world or just down the street.
Whitworld is a parent volunteer group created in 2009 that is supported by the PTSA. Members welcome new families to Whitman by hosting events and providing them with a ready-made community. Currently, the club has around 250 members from over 40 countries.
Whitworld parents meet for book clubs—some of the groups’ favorite books have been “Orphan Train” and “The Forty Rules of Love”—and get together for culture lunches for national holidays like Chinese New Year, Thanksgiving and Persian New Year. They plan museum visits to the National Gallery and the Hirshhorn and attend pottery classes. International parents will often host cooking classes to teach other members how to cook international foods, from Japanese sushi to Mexican tacos to French tarte aux pommes.
For families new to the country, meeting new people and finding a welcoming group can be challenging, club member Estelle Thevenin said. She moved to the U.S. from France two years ago, when her daughter was in 7th grade, and the club has helped her learn more about the different Whitman classes, clubs and American culture.
“The fact that I can meet new people regularly means I can share my questions or fears about Whitman,” Thevenin said. “I could ask them simple things like how they organize lunch boxes or about the curriculum since the system here is different than France.”
The group’s diverse community can also connect international students. Junior Zehra Jaffrey is Whitworld board member Sara Jaffrey’s daughter. Sara always talk to Zehra about the parents and their kids when she comes home from the events. Zehra has even met her best friend of two years, Lucia Diaz, because their moms became friends through the club.
Along with the International Club, Whitworld celebrates international cultures by putting on International Night each year. Parents help organize restaurant sponsors to represent different countries for the event.
“It helps establish the community and makes others learn about the international community,” sophomore Abby Chen said. “It helps other students understand where international students come from and their different cultures to make them feel more welcome.”
Even if parents have lived in Bethesda their whole lives, they can still join Whitworld. Although club member Dianne Chen has lived in the area for years, she loves going to the meetings, learning from other members’ international perspectives and, most of all, seeing her friends.
“The club brought families from different cultures around the world over to the same place,” Dianne Chen said. “Everyone, even though we come different backgrounds, can support each other. It’s a place for support. For sharing. For building. For bonding. For friendship.”
Whitworld Contact information: