By Robyn Walker, Executive Director, Cenet
Cenet is a designated sponsor of the Exchange Visitor Program brining international students to the United States on Summer Work Travel (SWT), Camp Counselor, Trainee and Intern programs.
Having grown up in nearby southern Illinois, I was Cenet’s first study abroad student (to the sunny island of Malta), and now have the privilege of serving as the organization’s executive director. My cultural exchange experience enriched my life. It helped me to understand the importance of seeing new places, meeting new people, and being exposed to global perspectives. Prior to joining Cenet, I was an educator for 15 years and always took the opportunity to promote cross-cultural learning, exploration and understanding in the classroom.
When Cenet recently revised its mission – “to inspire a safer, more prosperous and compassionate world through international education and cultural exploration” – I saw an opportunity to have more impact in my local area. The southern Mississippi delta is now the poorest region of the U.S. Research from IIE (the New York-based Institute of International Education) shows that cross-cultural skills and knowledge have an impact on long-term professional success. Many students in our region cannot afford to travel.
To bring the world to them, I worked with our staff to create Cultural Classroom, a pilot program that provides opportunities for Southeast Missouri educators to travel abroad and learn about different cultures. Our goal is to provide these teachers with an authentic, multi-faceted experience that they can convey to their students.
As a first step this summer, we sent four educators on a week-long study tour to the Dominican Republic.
April Garner, principal at Franklin School in Cape Girardeau said, “I gained such insight into the Dominican culture and way of life, providing me with a better understanding of our world. The conversations with people, both among our group and from the Dominicans, allowed me to gain new insights and perspectives that will guide me in my teaching and interactions with others. I feel truly blessed by this experience.”
Our Missouri educators experienced Dominican culture and customs in the capital city, Santo Domingo, and in rural areas. They met with local entrepreneurs and teachers, visited schools, and had supper with Dominican families in their homes.
They discussed issues as diverse as political systems, environmental challenges, the impact of tourism on a developing country, human trafficking, and woman’s rights. Local arrangements were made by Intentional Tours, a Pennsylvania-based firm that aims to provide genuine, well rounded experiences, allowing travelers to engage directly with local people, as well as experience the natural and historical beauty of the countries they visit.
Workshops will be conducted with Cultural Classroom participants during the school year to facilitate building cross-cultural content into their lessons. As a former teacher, I am excited to work with our educators to create stimulating lessons for their students.
Drawing on her Cultural Classroom experience, Erica Robbins, who teaches introduction to foreign languages at Jackson Middle School, has ambitious goals for her students.
“My goal is to integrate my experiences to help my students truly comprehend where they come from, view the world they live in with admiration, and motivate them to mindfully participate in society.”
To paraphrase Senator William Fulbright, we’ve made a modest start, but we have immodest aims. We want to expose students to the world, to enhance their comfort with cultural differences, and to prepare them for successful careers in a global economy.
I believe teachers can be key to this effort, and by playing that role, can bring the world home to their students.
|About Nicole Elkon|
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange
Nicole Elkon joined the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange in September 2021. Until June 2021, Ms. Elkon was the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Human Rights First, an independent advocacy organization focused on human rights and the rule of law. Prior to her position as COO, Ms. Elkon was a Senior Advisor at Results for America (RFA), a non-profit organization focused on advancing data-driven, evidence based public policy at all levels of government. She also served as Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary of ECA and was Director of the Office of Public Private Partnerships at ECA working to leverage strategic partnerships to enhance Administration foreign policy priorities.Read More
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