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Bringing the World Home to Missouri

Posted on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020 at 5:50 pm.

By Robyn Walker, Executive Director, Cenet

Robyn and Cultural Classroom teachers tour Santo Domingo on the metro aerial cable car

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.

Cultural Classroom teachers participate in organic coffee plantation tour.
The group learned how the locals ground their organically grown coffee beans.

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.

Robyn a few weeks after her arrival to Malta as an exchange student.

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.

Categories: Participants, Program Spotlight

About G. Kevin Saba

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange

G. Kevin Saba

G. Kevin Saba serves as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange at the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). In this capacity, he oversees the Exchange Visitor Program, which brings around 300,000 foreign citizens to the United States annually to teach, study, and build skills. He is the Director for the Policy and Program Support Division in ECA’s Office of Private Sector Exchange.

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