Getting to know someone — even ever so briefly — can make a world of difference.
About 25 minutes from the Loomis Chaffee campus is the Islamic Center of Central Connecticut in New Britain. On October 22 about 25 students who are enrolled in the Global & Environmental Studies Certificate (GESC) program traveled that short distance to meet with female immigrant students of similar ages from countries such as Yemen and Syria whose family homes of origin are miles and miles away.
One Loomis student, in a reflection after the visit, said that, yes, they come from “different countries, different belief systems, speak a different mother tongue,” but they are teenagers with similar hopes and desires.
GESC is a comprehensive program of study based on the four learning pillars of the Alvord Center for Global & Environmental Studies’s “Engaged Citizenship Matrix”: seek knowledge, enhance understanding, develop skills, and take action. The GESC recognizes coursework, co-curricular engagement, and experiential learning. Students enrolled in the program participate in six seminars and must complete a capstone project as part of the requirements.
“The kids learned you do not have to travel abroad to learn about the world,” said Richard Karrat, who teaches Arabic, French, and Spanish and is in his first year as an Alvord Center associate.
That's not all the students learned.
“They gained an enhanced understanding of what an immigrant population deals with, and now they are figuring out what they can do to help people, how they can take action to make a difference in the students' lives or how they can help them make a difference in their own lives,” Richard said.
Mostly, seminar speakers come to campus. Richard wanted to get the LC students out into the community. And within miles was an opportunity at the Islamic Center, whose stated goals include worship, education, and community service in Central Connecticut.
Richard went to Middlebury College for grad school, where he earned a master’s degree in Arabic language and literature. He knew of a program called Jiran, a summer language program at Middlebury that pairs intermediate and advanced Arabic students with underserved Arabic-speaking families in New Britain. The co-founder of the program is Maha Abdullah, an educator, author, and public speaker who has worked with the Arabic community in New Britian for more than 10 years helping immigrant and refugee families. Richard worked with Ms. Abdullah to put together the program for the GESC students.
“GESC is a great program,” Richard said, “and it has been exciting for me to work with the kids in a different way.”
At the Islamic Center gathering, the students did icebreaker activities, got to know one another through various prompts, and simply talked with each another in group settings.
“They had great conversations, and our kids really enjoyed it,” Richard said. “Our kids made contacts with this community to the point where they are still talking to one another. Maha talked about the Middlebury program and how any person can make a difference. Religious leaders talked about misconceptions of Islam, shattering stereotypes, and how if you are a good Muslim, you are a peaceful person. We had a tour of the mosque and a traditional Syrian meal.”
Richard asked the Loomis students to write reflections on the experience.
“Chatting with the young women,” one LC student wrote, “they acted like any other teenager — excited, slightly nervous, and intrigued.”
Wrote another: “I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet these young and brave girls on their educational journey in the U.S.”
And yet another reflection: “The trip inspired me to continue to learn about the ways in which someone’s beliefs and life can be similar but different from my own.”