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What Is “Sesame Street” Like in Other Countries?

By Kevin Hellyer
Updated May 17, 2024
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For over 50 years, the TV show Sesame Street has been essential to the upbringing of millions of young children, helping to teach them the skills and values they need to thrive in school and in life. Countless parents have relied on the program to impart uplifting messages and vital literacy and numeracy lessons to their preschoolers.

But it's not just American families who have grown up with Sesame Street. The PBS series has come a long way since it first aired in 1969. In fact, Sesame Street has traveled the world, spreading its memorable characters and positive, educational themes. The nonprofit Sesame Workshop operates in about 150 countries, and there are more than 30 international co-productions of the show.

Despite their iconic status, Muppets like Big Bird, Elmo, and Cookie Monster aren't always the most popular characters on the international versions. Sesame Street co-productions feature their own unique characters, carefully chosen to fit the national ethos, culture, and current events. For example, on South Africa's Takalani Sesame, the HIV-positive Muppet Kami has become an incredibly popular character in a country with a significant number of children who are also HIV-positive.

Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?

  • Mexico's Plaza Sésamo was one of the first co-productions, debuting just three years after the original U.S. version, complete with Big Bird's giant parrot cousin, Abelardo. The show remains popular throughout Latin America.

  • The Sesame Street model has been referred to as “Muppet diplomacy" – essentially spreading American values through the medium of children's TV, perhaps most famously in the Russian version of the show. Ulitsa Sezam debuted just a few years after the fall of the Soviet Union.

  • One of the newest international co-productions is Afghanistan's Baghch-e-Simsim. Featuring the Muppet siblings Zari and Zeerak, the show promotes gender equality and respect for girls.

  • "Each country has its own art form that it feels that children will respond to, and they do," said a Sesame Street spokesperson. For example, Northern Ireland's Sesame Tree is set in a hollow tree, in a reference to the country's folklore about fairy trees.

  • Interestingly, Sesame Street co-creator Joan Ganz Cooney never expected this "quintessentially American" show to appeal much to international audiences.

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