International Program, Reciprocal Learning

October 17, 2023
A student taking a group "selfie" with her cellphone. Her arm is outstretched in front of her and a group of students is behind her. They are in front of Spartan Stadium, smiling.

Introducing the Reeves Scholars Program (RSP), which connects future teachers in Michigan with other aspiring reachers teachers around the globe.

“We are building a way for teacher candidates to learn from and with each other,” said Upenyu Majee, the faculty lead of RSP, a reciprocal exchange program. Students from MSU and the University of Cape Coast (Ghana) take a semester-long virtual class together before embarking on tours of respective institutions, educational systems and cultures. In turn, everyone is a visitor and everyone is a host. 

“Our program intentionally does not duplicate what these future teachers learn in their classes at MSU or UCC,” Majee said. “We wanted to anchor in that foundation, but also to take them to other places. We are bringing in students with their content and their context.”

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO SIGN UP FOR THE REEVES SCHOLARS PROGRAM?

Nytalia Flores: I loved the idea of learning about education in another part of the world. A few years ago, a speaker from Ghana came to one of my education classes. He had done a study on Ghanian schools, came and studied in the U.S. for a bit. I asked him afterward: “What’s the biggest difference between U.S. and Ghana schools?” He told me he didn’t have an answer yet. So when I saw this opportunity, I was immediately interested. 

Student in the background learning with others out of focus in the foreground. The students are outdoors. The student in the background is wearing a blue and white jacket.

Luke Hollenbaugh: It sounded really cool. A reciprocal exchange program? Wow, that’s super interesting and a good way to spend my senior year. I knew it would be a great program to supplement my last semester of my undergrad.

Aubrey Vellmure: It was an opportunity for me to meet people in education classes. My first year was mostly general education. My sophomore year was all online [due to COVID-19]. My junior year, I had a lot of math classes. I hadn’t had the chance to really take classes with other future educators. 

WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE MOMENTS FROM THE PROGRAM?

Flores: During the seminar portion, we heard from speakers of various backgrounds, talking about how different schools operate, about the mentality of teachers. It was interesting. Teaching is changing, and this experience helped me realize that. It doesn’t matter where you are: It’s all over the world. We’re moving away from this “teacher all-knowing” mentality to student-centered learning. We learn from the students as much as they learn from us. 

Hollenbaugh: We had a lot of introspection throughout [travels to Ghana and when University of Cape Coast students visited MSU]. We were taking in each other’s cultures and participating in conversations about education, while also being spectators. It made me ask a lot of questions. It illuminated questions on societal norms. When the Ghanaian students came to the U.S. and vice versa, both groups experienced things that were abnormal when compared to our home cultures. This raised the question of “what is normal?” Each cohort would debrief individually, and then again together, and work through how we were feeling about the content of the program. 

Vellmure: The Ghanians were incredibly welcoming to us. When we arrived, they gave us sashes to wear around our necks. It said “akwaaba,” which means “welcome” in Twi. Our names were hand-stitched on them! Every night we’d sit in someone’s room and teach each other games. We’d eat meals together, trying lots of foods from each of our own cultures. 

IF YOU TOOK ONE THING FROM THE PROGRAM, WHAT WAS IT?

Flores: I learned so much, it is hard to pinpoint. Teaching is a field of teamwork. Every single teacher you meet will be a team member to you and with you. I always thought I’d learn from reading journals or maybe conversations with my local colleagues. It never occurred to me that the knowledge and tools could be overseas. Now, I can always reach out to my friends I gained through the program. “What would you do in this situation? What ideas do you have?” There are so many ways I can continue to learn and grow.

3 students observing a presentation that is creating a blue and green  stripes of light over the students.

Hollenbaugh: There was so much I didn’t know heading into this experience. We learned from so many who gave impactful lectures around themes in education. I was able to learn a lot more about the global contexts of education. Ethnocentricity often limits how we think about it. In the Reeves Scholars Program, we talked about how valued or undervalued indigenous knowledge is, the role of the teacher or who becomes a teacher through a lens of global education. 

Vellmure: The experience gave me so many perspectives. Some problems in education are very U.S.-based, and some problems seem to be a global issue. It’s helping me think about: What are we doing and how can we fix this locally? And then: How can we contribute to fixing global issues? 

THE REEVES SCHOLARS PROGRAM WAS FUNDED ENTIRELY BY LARRY AND ARLENE REEVES. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE SUCH AN OPPORTUNITY BE PROVIDED BY A DONOR?

Flores: I always wanted to do an education abroad program, but never thought I could. It was so expensive. That they can see something in the program and the participants means a lot. They took a chance on us. 

Hollenbaugh: This gift has reached so many people. Beyond me personally, it impacted so many: My cohort mates, those before and after us … the people we talked to at schools. All the people we interacted with and met were impacted by their kindness. 

Vellmure: I would never have been able to do this by myself without the generosity of the Reeves. I would never have met the University of Cape Coast students. I am so, so grateful. 

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND THE REEVES PROGRAM TO OTHERS?

Flores: This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is an opportunity to collaborate with others who also want to be teachers. You’ll meet a group of people who are so eager to learn and to share what they know. It’s incredible. 

Hollenbaugh: Yes. This experience helped round out my education. We sometimes hear these terms like “culturally relevant pedagogy” or being “responsive” in teaching. But to actually go on a trip and choose to learn and engage in that? It helps you to understand and live what you are teaching about.

Vellmure: Absolutely. It helped me build connections with global partners and create lifelong friends. 

WHY DO YOU WANT TO BECOME AN EDUCATOR?

Flores: As a Latina, it’s important to have a real presence in the classroom. I had one brown teacher growing up, that’s it. It means a lot to know I could help someone see success. I want to support kids, to motivate them. Kids deserve someone who will care, show compassion, show they are heard. My heart is in it. 

Hollenbaugh: I could have done something else, but teaching speaks to me. I enjoy learning about it, talking about it and doing it. I love literacy and history and fostering the love of those things. I love the idea of helping students grow and transition in different parts of their lives, getting them ready for the next phase, whether it be middle or high school or college or some other path.

Vellmure: You know that point where you see someone understand something new? Like when the “lightbulb” turns on? That. That’s the reason I want to become a teacher. I want to help people find their “aha” moments. 

Note: Some responses have been edited for length or clarity.

Nytalia Flores

Senior – Elementary Education

Participated in RSP: 2023

Luke Hollenbaugh

B.A. ‘22 (Secondary Education – English & Social Studies)

Participated in RSP: 2022

Aubrey Vellmure
B.A. ‘22 (Secondary Education – Mathematics)

Participated in RSP: 2023