Global Education: Transformative Learning Outside the U.S.

October 16, 2017

Studying in a new country is both exciting and challenging. According to the Institute for International Education, it’s one of the best ways students can gain the international skills and cross-cultural competence that employers are looking for in today’s global labor market. In the world of education, it helps students, pre-service teachers, administrators, and education leaders more thoroughly understand the diverse students they serve and the cultural and social contexts that influence their learning. At Rutgers Graduate School of Education (GSE), there are a number of global education programs aimed at achieving these goals. Through research, teaching, and service with international partners and faculty, students engage in education as a tool for social justice, while deepening their understanding of their own positionality within the context of our global community.

The South Africa Initiative (SAI), launched by the GSE in the fall of 2001, facilitates international contact between the United States and South Africa, and empowers students and educators to be vital agents and architects of a 21st century global society. The vision of the program is to develop a true exchange of talents and expertise, where students and adult learners from the U.S. and South Africa receive access to knowledge, support, and resources that are critical to cultural understanding and the improvement of teaching & learning. Students participate in the program by enrolling in a 3-credit course that concludes with 2 weeks of cultural immersion in South Africa. While abroad they participate in seminars with experts examining the challenges of public education, and engage in service learning activities with rural schools and youth development projects in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Rutgers GSE’s Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, Online Learning and Outreach, Dr. Darren Clarke, GSE ’01, oversees the development and implementation of SAI activities. According to Clarke, “the cultural immersion and service learning offered by the program provides rich and distinctive environments for students to examine aspects of culture such as race, class, gender, and language.” It also affords students the opportunity to examine their own biases and assumptions that are sometimes hard to detect otherwise. Clarke explains, “by experiencing some discomfort or dissonance and being encouraged to reflect on their interactions, students may heighten their awareness, understanding, feelings, and behaviors that might otherwise be ignored or denied in a similar or familiar cultural context.”

When students return home from the trip, they use this transformative experience in a number of ways, ranging from developing innovative curriculum projects in schools, to implementing community outreach projects. Several Rutgers faculty and staff affiliated with SAI have conducted joint research efforts with South African scholars. In April 2016, Clarke co-edited an international scholarly volume with GSE Educational Psychology Professor and Chair, Dr. Saundra Tomlinson-Clarke, that included chapters from Dr. Donald Heilman, GSE ’12, Office of Student Legal Services, Rutgers University, and Dr. Edward Ramsamy, Associate Professor and Chair, Rutgers Africana Studies. The book, entitled, “Social Justice and Transformative Learning: Culture and Identity in the United States & South Africa,” is viewed as filling a niche in the field, providing practical, tested applications and fostering the delivery of enhanced capacity to train educators in social justice and transformative learning.

Language Learning and Community Engagement in Argentina is another program offered by the GSE which seeks to address education through a combination of coursework, cultural immersion, and community engagement. This program however, does so within the framework of  language and cultural exposure.  Students who enroll in the program spend three weeks in Argentina, living with families where they participate in service learning at local primary and secondary schools in Rosario, the third largest city in Argentina. They engage in seminars regarding socio-cultural issues related to the history of Argentina, its language, and education system with the purpose of exposing participants to the differences between the United States and Argentinian education systems. Associate Professor in the GSE Department of Learning and Teaching, Nydia Flores, explains how the program grew from a small international service learning opportunity to an enriched program.  “After the first few years we saw a growing number of non-Spanish speakers wanting to participate in the program,” Flores explains. “As a result, it expanded to include pre- and post-service seminars, service learning lunches, and opportunities for students that do not  have a background in Spanish or education to participate in the program and make a difference.” Currently, it provides conversational Spanish and service learning tracks to fulfill the needs of its applicants. 

The GSE also offers students the opportunity to travel and learn in Mexico. Rutgers GSE students, staff, and faculty have traveled to Yucatán since 2012.  In the Community-Based Education in Yucatán Program, GSE participants spend their winter break in the city of Mérida, Mexico, where they participate in activities designed to expose them to the Mexican culture, history, and education system, and they learn about pre-Colombian, colonial and contemporary influences on Mexican and Mexican American culture. Through collaboration with the Facultad de Educación (School of Education) at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán (UADY), participants put the GSE Conversation Café model into action with Mexican pre-service teachers and high school students. They visit ancient archeological sites, haciendas, markets, and several community-based education sites in rural settings, for example, a women’s cooperative and a Mayan/Spanish cultural maintenance program.

“The experience gained in Mexico encourages the development of intercultural competence and a better understanding of local immigration patterns in the United States. The goal is that this transfers into their future teaching,” says GSE Director of Local-Global Partnerships, Dr. Mary Curran. “Transformational learning occurs when people from different cultural backgrounds engage together in meaningful activity and are supported with guided reflection on the experience.”

Curran is attending the 44th Mexican Association of Teachers of English (MEXTESOL) Conference on November 9, 2017 in León, Guanajuato, Mexico with Ed.M. student Rosa Rivera, who participated in the January 2017 Yucatán Program. Together with colleagues Blanca Adán Sobrado and Hannah Webber from the UADY, they will offer a panel presentation titled “Growing Together as a Global Community.”



Who to contact:
Elizabeth Boyle