GECP trip to Dearborn: Learning through differences

May 3, 2022

Global Educators Cohort Program (GECP) students recently took a trip to Dearborn, MI, to learn about the Arab American culture and observe in some of the schools. Twenty-three students went on the trip, including teacher preparation student, Ana Vidal. The following article is a telling of her experience visiting that region of the state for the first time.

“With little knowledge of the Arab American community, I honestly did not know what I would experience in Dearborn. When we arrived, our first stop was to observe at a school. The staff at the school was amazing and surprised us with a breakfast of doughnuts, coffee, and bagels, which we thought was a nice touch. After breakfast, we walked around to the classrooms to see how the teachers were interacting with the students.

For me I noticed a change in the way the teachers were interacting with and teaching their students. I have only observed schools in my home state of Illinois, so getting to see how teachers interacted at Dearborn was a different experience. In the classroom the kids were sat together in smaller groups instead of having each one sit in a row. Each space was decorated nicely with so much color and unique touches. It was interesting to see different signs in Arabic within the classrooms along with the students being open to talk in their own language. Posters in the school featured a girl in a hijab, which was little touch that can really help the students see themselves within the school.

After lunch we headed to another school to watch a performance from the Maples Drummers! I was in awe of the different beats they were making. Being a former percussionist myself I did not know about these types of drums before! What I really enjoyed is how the instructor kept some of the beats and rhythms which are well known in the students’ culture. I also noticed the clothes they wore and the very rug they sat on all showed other aspects of their culture. After, educators talked to us about navigating classrooms where there are many different kids from different languages. We received valuable advice to help us in our future classrooms.

students visit Sheeba's in Dearborn
GECP students Ana Vidal (left) and Sarah Wittum eat dinner at Sheeba Restaurant in Dearborn on April 8, 2022.

The last two places we went while in Dearborn were the Arab American National Museum and Dearborn Fresh Market. While in the museum, we learned that many of the artifacts were given to them from fellow members of the community. We learned about some preconceived thoughts people might have of Arab Americans or the Arab community in general. I saw it through an exhibit where it showed many Arabs portrayed in popular movies or TV shows. It was interesting because it happens to people from other cultures as well. Being a Mexican American I can relate to some of the topics being talked about within the different exhibits. For example, when talking about emigrating to another country, I was able to relate because I have had family members come to the States to find better jobs, education, or a better life in general. I also liked how they valued hospitality. They discussed how parents would make a big meal even though only one person was coming to visit or having a lot of coffee or tea for guests to enjoy while being there for a short time. I related to these statements as my family also tries to clean the whole house for guests, prepare food, coffee, pastries, and of course, bringing out the fancy plates or cups for them to use. I liked how they explained how it would be to teach this information to a much younger group of students and I truly appreciated how the museum has lesson plans for future educators. At the end of the tour, we went to the local market right across the street. Going into the store really reminded me of a store my family and I bought groceries at home called Garden Fresh Market in Mundelein, Illinois. I truly enjoyed looking at the products which had the names in Arabic, where in my grocery store at home they all had names in Spanish.

Overall, I went into the trip without knowing anything about Arab American culture but came back to East Lansing with more information. I would recommend going to Dearborn. It is a very pretty place with culture behind every store or place you step foot into.”