Fulbright DAI Semester Concludes with Lessons Learned in the Classroom and Through Cultural Understanding

see caption
Syracuse University Fulbright DAI spring 2019 participants from left to right: Mubin Chowdhury, Kaneez Fatima, Florence Gallemit, Hicham Mahda, Dianne Christenson, Aryani Campos, Angelos Skimpas, Ranielle Miranda-Navarro, Magdoleen Hazran, Dean Joanna Masingila, Marina Goula, Carla Priscila, Vandana Jha, Coumba Sebor, Ousmane Diallo, Kamal El Chaoui, Sajjad Jami, and Djiby Diaw

At the start of the spring 2019 semester, Syracuse temperatures hovered in the single digits, and even hardened locals balked at the brutal cold and wind. For eighteen teachers, newly arrived from nine countries as far away as the Philippines and Senegal, the extreme weather was a novelty that quickly lost its luster. But the semester that followed would be a treasure trove of memories to last a lifetime.

“It is very sunny and never below 100 degrees at home,” said Djiby Diaw of Senegal. “First I was very excited for my first touch with the snow. But as days went on, the snow continued and became just unbearable.”

Though the weather may have been frigid, the community was warm and welcoming. Diaw remarked, “From what I read and saw on movies, I was expecting to find a very hostile society where people consider all strangers as danger, but I was surprised to realize how warm our friendship families welcomed us, and the availability of the people we met in and outside the campus.”

see caption
Smadar Cohen reads to students at Solvay Elementary School

Diaw spent the semester in Syracuse with seventeen other recipients of the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program for International Teachers (Fulbright DAI), which brings international primary and secondary teachers to the U.S. for a semester-long professional development program. The School of Education and two other national universities hosted Fulbright DAI teachers this year.

As part of the program, the teachers participated in classroom placements in Syracuse City, Jamesville-Dewitt and Solvay school districts. In addition to working in area schools, they collaborated as a professional learning community on inquiry projects to develop materials, workshops or other resources to meet specific educational needs in their home countries. School of Education Dean Joanna Masingila explains that the projects were varied in their design and purpose. “Some have created a website with resource materials for teachers, some have planned professional development workshops, some have created workshops for youth leadership development.”

The group met together weekly in a seminar course, led by Masingila and Thomas Bull, Assistant Teaching Professor and Director of Field Relations. Each teacher also audited two School of Education courses, and engaged in six technology workshops led by Jing Lei, Professor and Chair of Instructional Design, Development, and Evaluation. Social, cultural, recreational and academic activities were facilitated throughout the semester, including sporting events, trips to NYC and Niagara Falls, the Harriet Tubman Home, and other local/regional sites.

As Masingila predicted at the beginning of the semester, hosting a cohort of international educators was a “wonderful mutual learning experience.”

Vandana Jha was away from her twin 9 year old daughters in India for five months to participate in this experience. Though difficult to be so far from home, she found her placement in the Solvay School District to be professionally and personally rewarding because she was able to share and make connections based on her cultural identity. “I gave a presentation about my country at Solvay Middle School and at Solvay High School,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience. I was surprised by the number of questions asked by the students and didn’t even know the answers to some!” Jha added, “I was so touched when an ESL teacher at the high school , Ms. Linda Vaught, asked me if I could start a conversation with students about their home countries since she felt I connected with students. It was one of the best things to happen to a teacher.”

Florence Gallemit (Phillippines) agrees with the value of the field placements. “My host teacher, Ms. Azizah Curry, was one of the best I encountered. I truly admire how she modeled greatness and encourages it to her students.”

See caption
Fulbright DAI teachers Mubin Chowdhury, Ranielle Miranda-Navarro, and Angelos Skimpas with SOE faculty members Sherrie Bruner, Melissa Luke, and their families.

Fulbright teachers were supported by faculty advisors and graduate student peer mentors from the School of Education. Members of the Syracuse area community also served as area hosts, or “Friendship Families,” arranging social gatherings, casual meals, and activities.

“Some of the families hosted a ‘Thanksgiving Dinner’ for all the Fulbright participants so we could experience the the celebration,” explains Ariane Campos, from the Phillippines. “There were storybooks laid out for us and our hosts gladly answered our questions about the holiday. They served us traditional Thanksgiving food like pumpkin, mashed potatoes, turkey, and blueberry cheesecake. It was a day I will never forget.”

Collaboration with teachers from around the world has provided opportunity for the School of Education faculty, staff and students to not only share resources and learn new tools, but to deepen the understanding of field practices and approaches to education in other countries. The perspectives of the Fulbright DAI teachers also made for critical discourse about practices and attitudes in the Unites States.

see caption
Ousmane Diallo, Coumba Sebor, and Djiby Diaw from Senegal and Dianne Christenson from New Zealand present food and activities from their homes at the DAI Cultural Presentations

New Zealand’s Dianne Christenson said, “Living and learning in Syracuse has been such a wonderful experience. There have been so many amazing lectures to attend throughout the university on such a wide variety of topics.” However, as an educator, she said that she was surprised by the lack of outrage at gun violence in schools, at “the incredible load that the testing regime puts on beginning teachers,” and also at the “environmental desecration” occurring around us as a society that we ignore.

Morocco’s Hicham Mahda was also grateful for the educational offerings at Syracuse, calling the Syracuse community “a big open market of knowledge.” He said, “One gets in with an empty bag and fills it with various colorful veggie experiences and fresh knowledge.” However, he was concerned by use of technology during classes. He said, “It is frustrating when the professor lectures or when a student is presenting – and most of their classmates are using mobile phones.”

All of the Fulbright DAI Participants were given the opportunity to showcase their cultures for the SOE community at an event hosted at the School of Education in April. Each country had a table and shared food, art, games, and stories from home. Many faculty, staff and students left the event with understanding of a new place, new cuisine, fashion, and even a souvenir, such as their name written in Arabic on a decorative card.

Ranielle Miranda-Navarro (Phillippines) captured the spirit of the event and a semester of cultural sharing when she said, “Living in Syracuse for almost five months made me realize that even though we are different with so many things, there would be something that will connect us – such as food, story, music, and so on. Conflict is inevitable, yet, from every negative thing that had happened I chose to remember what matters, what made my heart swell with happiness, and what made grow as a person.”

Fulbright DAI teachers on the National Mall in Washington DC in 'Fulbright Teachers Wear Orange' shirts
“Fulbright Teachers Wear Orange” in Washington, DC