As I was scrolling through the calendar, I saw July 30th listed as International Friendship Day. How appropriate! I strongly believe in the power of relationships within and beyond our own communities.
In the past, I have invited international teachers into my classroom through the Fulbright Teaching for Excellence and Achievement program, sponsored by Winthrop University, and my students benefited greatly from the knowledge gained. The Pakistani principal, whose school was located in the Hindu Kush mountains, explained to my students that her students would trek through 3 feet of snow in order to go to school. Delaying school for possible ice conditions was a foreign concept. The Egyptian teacher/scholar relayed that in his region, schools were segregated by gender, and he also presented a riveting presentation regarding the political unrest in his country as a result of The Arab Spring. My students then researched this political uprising and gained an appreciation of the importance of a stable democracy. From the Ecuadorian teacher, my students learned that teachers could be murdered if they dare present lessons critical of the government. As a result of these international teacher/student interactions, my students broadened their perspectives.
In 2014, I became a Teacher Ambassador to the nation-state of Colombia through Teachers for Global Classrooms. After an intensive year-long (40 hour) training in how to incorporate global studies into our curriculum and/or lesson plans and a 3 day seminar in Washington, DC, I set out to Bogota to tour schools and meet with Colombia’s education minister to discuss the nation’s campaign to teach English to all students. During one particular tour at a school situated at the top of a steep mountain, a young student asked me for my autograph, then another, until I was surrounded by a crowd of elementary students shouting “azul, azul!” The principal dispersed the crowd, but at a meet and greet in the library later that day, I learned that students were fascinated by my blue (azul) eyes as they had never met someone with my eye color. When I asked, “Why not?” The student representative responded that White people like me never bothered coming into their community before now. This remark shook me to my core. Later, in Cartagena, Colombia, the four member team of fellow teacher ambassadors, myself included, worked with the TGC host teacher, Rosalie, to prepare a truly memorable class project. Our team all pitched in $25 each to purchase a “Chiva” or party bus for the day. We traveled around the ancient Spanish colonial city, and the students, who had meticulously researched each landmark and practiced their English serving as tour guides. We capped off the day with a stop at a beautiful Caribbean beach, with white sand gleaming. I noticed that several of the students were openly weeping--even teenagers. When I asked our host what was wrong, she simply said, “These students have never seen the oceanside before. Even though they live only eight miles away, their parents simply cannot afford to travel--and it’s too dangerous to walk through neighborhoods filled with violent gangs.” So, these students grew up smelling the sweet, salty air, they had never truly experienced their city in all its glory. I was overcome with emotion--anger for the plight of their poverty and joy at the wisdom and thoughtfulness of a teacher who just wanted her students to have the best life had to offer.
As a citizen of The United States, I think it’s important to be globally aware. The Power of PROGENY supports global inquiry because we are all part of the human family--and the more we know and interact with each other--the more we understand each other and cultivate empathy among one another.
by POP Vice President Michael Henthorn
Michael posing with the students of Institutio Educational Distital Fanny Mickey