This past weekend, Sesame Street got the first of several international visitors, part of Sesame Workshop's four-episode event bringing this season’s mutual respect and understanding curriculum to life.

Since 1970, Sesame Workshop has been creating local versions of Sesame Street in countries around the world, complete with original characters played by local performers and curricula tailored to meet the specific needs of children in each region. Beginning this past Saturday, Sesame Street Muppet girls from the show’s co-productions in India, China and South Africa are being integrated into episodes’ storylines, sharing their unique cultures with Elmo, Cookie Monster and all their friends. This new run of episodes marks the first time that an ensemble of international Sesame characters has visited the U.S. production. Episodes featuring international girls and storylines will air on HBO every Saturday (9 to 9:30 a.m. ET/PT) through March 3.

The international visitors and storylines tie directly into Season 48’s mutual respect and understanding curriculum. Building on last year’s “kindness” theme, this season works to foster cultural competencies — interpersonal tools and skills that can help kids understand their own cultures, respect and appreciate others’ cultures and recognize similarities between the two. Young children notice racial, cultural, and other differences as a matter of course, but they need context to understand their world and be better neighbors. In our increasingly connected and challenging world, “tolerance” is not enough; that’s where cultural competencies come in. By modeling curious and respectful interactions with people of different backgrounds, the SESAME STREET crew shows kids that similarities are easy to find and differences are worthy of celebration.

Learn more about the international visitors, and be sure to tune in to Sesame Street with your children Saturdays at 9 a.m. ET.