Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Central Michigan University political science faculty member Prakash Adhikari took his classes to refugee resettlement agencies in Grand Rapids and Detroit to provide students with a real-world experience of meeting and speaking to newly resettled refugees.
When COVID-19 forced the shift of classes online and to HyFlex last year, Adhikari saw a unique opportunity to give students a chance to truly go global through interactions with refugees around the world.
"Since that (traveling to refugee resettlement agencies) was no longer an option, I sought an opportunity to open my classes to those experiencing forced displacement around the world," he said.
Adhikari worked with Emily Worline, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Refugee Outreach Collective, to create a real-world experience by developing an innovative program called Global Classroom where CMU students would learn alongside refugees, virtually.
During the fall 2020 semester, CMU students from two of Adhikari's classes connected, learned and studied with people in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi, Africa. Sponsored by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Dzaleka is a political prison and has become an impoverished city-space of approximately 40,000 people who fled conflict primarily from the Democratic Republic of the Congo due to fear of persecution.
Global Classroom participants in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp celebrating their accomplishments.
The courses included regular virtual group study sessions and course material discussions. There also was a chance to exchange languages: Students and refugees sometimes taught each other phrases in English and Swahili.
"Playing a small role in providing education to people in developing countries has been an extraordinary privilege and a highlight of my academic career so far," said Caelan O'Bryan a junior from Lapeer, Michigan.
Worline said nearly 80 million people are experiencing forced displacement around the world, and many also experience prolonged gaps in their education.
"I look forward to continuing to work with CMU to bridge this gap, while offering an innovative way for CMU students to gain a truly global outlook," she said.
This semester, students in Adhikari's class are connecting with 11 asylum seekers stranded in Matamoros, Mexico, just south of Texas, waiting for immigration hearings before they can cross the border.
Faculty member Prakash Adhikari connects with a Global Classroom student.
The Matamoros students have a high school education, and some have taken college courses, but they don't speak English, Adhikari explained. The Refugee Outreach Collective, in collaboration with the nonprofit Sidewalk School for Asylum Seekers, hired translators to assist students enrolled in the course.
Adhikari and CMU's Department of Political Science and Public Administration are exploring ways to maintain and expand this innovative teaching approach.
"I'd like to continue the Global Classroom as long as possible, helping as many people as possible," Adhikari said. "It provides CMU students with a unique opportunity to apply concepts in international relations to understanding real-world situations outside the classroom and gives forced migrants a chance to acquire education."