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The convergence of the global and the local: What teachers bring to their classrooms after a Fulbright experience in Kenya and Tanzania

Kelly Bryn O'Brien, University of Massachusetts Amherst


After the events of September 11th 2001, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts revised their curriculum frameworks to include extensive coverage of Islam and Muslim society. As a result, K-12 teachers had to seek out professional development courses to increase their knowledge on this vast subject. In the summer of 2004, with funding from Fulbright, the University of Massachusetts Amherst together with Boston University offered Massachusetts teachers a cultural immersion program into Islam and Muslim communities in East Africa. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to understand not just what teachers learned as a result of this four and a half week immersion experience into the lives of Muslims in Kenya and Tanzania, but more importantly how it was learned. I sought to understand and examine what conditions were critical to learning, and subsequently how teachers utilized that learning in their classrooms upon their return, particularly within the contexts of multicultural and global education. This study was situated within the contextual frameworks of experiential education and study abroad. Participants included 10 K-12 teachers from across Massachusetts representing all grade levels and most subjects. Data gathered through direct observation, participant observation, primary documents, and interviews were analyzed and resulted in conclusions that teachers benefit greatly from a study abroad opportunity. Experiences identified as important to their learning included: (1) Actually being in Kenya and Tanzania. (2) Immersion into the lives of East Africans through homestays and other face-to-face encounters, and; (3) Engaging in reflective activities with the group and individually. The study revealed that the teachers applied their experience and learning in a variety of ways. Some teachers were hampered in their attempts to bring their experience into the classrooms due to circumstances beyond their control. All teachers faced obstacles to putting their experience into action, however many developed new and creative lessons based on their learning abroad. In addition, they bolstered and expanded existing lessons by utilizing a variety of materials from East Africa. Many created and implemented professional development workshops for their peers for the first time, reflecting an increase in confidence typical of a study abroad experience. From the work these teachers did, both in the classroom and with their peers, it is clear that their skills, attitudes, knowledge, and understanding concerning Islam and Muslim communities as well as global and multicultural education were enhanced.

Subject Area

Teacher education|Social studies education

Recommended Citation

O'Brien, Kelly Bryn, "The convergence of the global and the local: What teachers bring to their classrooms after a Fulbright experience in Kenya and Tanzania" (2006). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3216959.