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Open Access Capstone

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In the mid-1970’s, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts became federally designated refugee settlement location for many of the people displaced by violence and conflict in Southeast Asia. Since the, large numbers of individuals and families from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, often escaping horrific conditions, have found new homes in cities and towns across the commonwealth. Today, Massachusetts ranks seventh in the national for the number of Southeast Asian Immigrants and refugees that have resettled in the United States, and is home to the second largest Khmer American population outside of California.

Despite federal, state, and local assistance to the communities and schools that support this population, the rapid increase of immigrant/refugee school-age youth has impacted the educational environment of many schools across the Commonwealth. Culturally specific curriculums are limited, there is a shortage of appropriately trained ESL/bilingual educators, and k-12 educators are faced with the need to update their teaching strategies, content, and relevance of materials used by their increasingly multicultural classrooms. Moreover, teachers of immigrants/refugee youth are seldom provided any background information on the history and culture of these newcomer groups, whose traditions and customs sometimes class with mainstream American culture. Recognizing these differences allows teachers to perform their jobs more effectively by creating an environment that incorporates cultural sensitivity and understanding into how teachers deal with students and parents from diverse cultural backgrounds.

In an effort to address the lack of understanding, curricula, and content materials related to Southeast Asia, ten public school teachers from Western Massachusetts embarked on a thirty-day study tour of Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. The program was funded by the Fulbright Hays Group Abroad Program of the U.S. Department of Education, and sponsored by the Five Colleges Inc., and the Center for International Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the relevant theories and research on global and multicultural education, and international study abroad programs. More importantly, it will analyze the impact areas the study had on teacher understanding of Southeast Asia, cultures and diaspora.