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NORMAL — Normal Community West High School has invited students to come and learn about the world this weekend at GlobalFest 2013.

With a theme this year of “Pass the Torch for World Peace,” the event, which continues Saturday, offers hundreds of middle and high school students from across Illinois opportunities to learn about other languages and cultures alongside their peers, including visiting foreign students.

Debbie Flavin, a Spanish teacher at Arthur-Lovington High School in Arthur who helps organize the annual event, praised the events immersion sessions in which students speak and interact in languages like Japanese, Arabic and Tagalog. She said they offer greater variety than the language programs at many local schools and also give students windows into many cultures.

“(Students) also get to meet kids from different countries, and they get to be exposed to different languages and cultures,” Flavin said. “It gives them, I think, more of an understanding of the world as a global village —more respect, more understanding, and less fear, of strangers.”

Normal West freshman Courtney Joyce, 15, volunteered at the event alongside her father. She said she’s started taking German this year and “absolutely loves it.” While working the concession stands at the event, she said she looked forward to some language sessions that would help her connect with a friend abroad.

“I want to go to the Japanese (workshops), because one of my best friends lives in Japan,” Joyce said. “She lived here for a while, but has been in all sorts of different countries for her parents’ work.”

Normal West junior McKale Craig, 16, helped sign in guests. She volunteered for the first time this year after participating last year, then learned about Vikings.

“(This event gives) students a widespread diversity of how the other world is, and what they go through,” Craig said.

Nathan Sidwell, 36, of Mackinaw, a French teacher at Washington High School, chaperoned a group of 55 students from his school’s International and French clubs.

“We’re kind of an ethnocentric culture here in the Midwest and kids don’t get to experience foreign lands and culture,” Sidwell said. “They tend to really enjoy the immersion rooms. They’re very excited, and usually come out of them sharing words that they’ve learned.”

The event is scheduled to continue from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. A grand opening ceremony, including dances, is scheduled for 10 a.m.

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