Seeking a book about refugees for students and teachers?
Curious about funded educational travel opportunities to the Middle East? Let’s discuss both with an expert: a teacher and author named Tara Seger.
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Teaching Traveling: Welcome, Tara. Tell us about your background.
Tara: Hello! My name is Tara Seger and I have been teaching Modern World History, Current Middle East Conflicts and US History II at Scituate High School for 18 years. I absolutely love my job. I also have a Master’s Degree in School Administration which included training in curriculum development.
I recently completed my passion project, publishing a book entitled: Refugee Realities: Voices from the Middle East. Why did I write it? Over the years, I noticed that students were struggling to understand the conflicts in the Middle East. I proposed to my school administration that I create a unique course entitled “Current Middle East Conflicts.“
This course was designed to thoroughly explain to students what conflicts were happening in the Middle East, and the history behind them. The class became very popular, and I was consistently reaching out to contacts from the U.S. and the Middle East to come in as guest speakers.
TT: Wow! How did you end up getting a grant to travel to the Middle East?
Tara: I soon realized that it wasn’t enough to research the Middle East and teach about it every day. In order to be the best teacher I could be, I knew that I needed to travel to the Middle East myself, and experience the culture. I applied to travel to the United Arab Emirates with the World Affairs Council in 2018.
This experience truly enhanced my teaching ability. While traveling, I worked directly with my students via the blog I created. While I was learning in the UAE, the students were learning along with me. They were fascinated, and felt as if I had opened a window to another part of the world for them.
Upon my return, the World Affairs Council required all teachers who traveled to the UAE with them to apply to present at conferences about our experiences in the United Arab Emirates. I applied to present at the SOCIOINT International Conference on Social Sciences and Humanities in Istanbul, Turkey in the summer of 2018.
My application was accepted, and I thoroughly enjoyed presenting about my experiences teaching about Middle Eastern culture to American students. I also deeply enjoyed learning from the presenters from all of the world that were gathered at the conference.
Upon my return to the US, I regularly reached out to NaTakallam to bring in refugees from across the Middle East to my classroom via zoom. As the students and I interviewed refugees from countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, we developed sincere empathy and strong relationships with the refugees. I felt that I needed to do something more.
TT: How was your book, Refugee Realities, created?
T: I fully understood how to teach about the Middle East, how to break down the complex situations in order for students to fully understand them. I also am equipped at personalizimg the stories of refugees, allowing students the opportunity to empathize with them.
I knew that I had a unique skill partially due to the curriculum training I received while working on my master’s degree at Providence College in Rhode Island. I knew that I could use my skills for good. I decided to apply for a grant from the Qatar Foundation to request funding to pay refugees for an interview with me about their stories.
I turned these stories into a book that is broken down for students with vocabulary, background information, guiding questions and graphic organizers for teachers. My number one goal for this book was to give back. I decided that 20% of any profits that I make from the years of effort that I poured into this book would be donated directly to refugee causes.
My number two goal for this book was to spread the heartwarming, and often devastating, stories of refugees to students, and adults, throughout the United States. I truly believe that any human being would empathize with these stories and the dire situations such as losing not only an individual’s home, but also their ability to live in their countries.
Please consider purchasing a book for a teacher, high school student, college student, or an adult who is interested in the Middle East.
TT: Amazing. Tell us about the recent grant you got for teacher travel to the Middle East.
T: This past summer, I was selected for an Advanced Learning Program at the world renowned Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem. I spent 2 1/2 weeks studying and traveling in Israel. This is an absolutely fascinating experience. I was able to experience Israel from the Israeli perspective. I was able to meet several Holocaust survivors and understand their stories.
I now fully understand why Israelis are so passionate about having a country of their own, a place where they can feel that they have refuge. Spending a week and a half studying at Yad Vashem, speaking to the children and grandchildren of survivors, walking through the children’s memorial, and talking to people about the Holocaust as if it truly is what it is, recent history, is a life altering experience. It is critical to understand every conflict from all perspectives.
I also traveled to the West Bank and spoke to Palestinian people. I walked along the separation wall on the Palestinian side. I saw the endless wall and the countless pieces of graffiti calling for equality and peace. I felt very small standing next to the intimidatingly large wall and looking up at the watchtower, not knowing if Israeli soldiers were looking down at me, perhaps disapproving.
I sat with Palestinian people and enjoyed their delicious desserts while discussing their desire to travel outside of the West Bank. The Palestinian people in Bethlehem, West Bank, were so happy to have American tourists and eager to make us feel comfortable.
I also had the opportunity to walk in Jesus’s footsteps. As a Christian, this was a very moving experience. I was able to walk the Golgatha path Christ took towards his crucifixion. I was able to visit the place where Christians believe Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel to announce that she would give birth to God’s son.
I visited the location of Jesus‘s birth, his baptism, the place where he performed miracles, and the place of his passing. I was able to see the type of tree where it is believed that the twig that was used for Jesus‘s crown of thorns was taken from. It is fascinating to be in the location where so much history and religion has taken place.
I had the opportunity to watch the Jews pray facing the West Wall, rocking back-and-forth, with such dedication. The women were separated to the right, the men to the left. Everyone walked away from the wall backwards because they have so much respect for it.
I was also able to go up to the Dome of the Rock and see the Al-Aqsa Mosque from outside of the building. This situation was not something we would expect in the United States. Before being allowed entry, I had to go through a checkpoint to be searched for weapons.
I walked up an elevated pathway built of sticks, only to turn the corner to see 12 Jordanian soldiers with large rifles casually standing guard by the entrance. As I passed, I felt a sense of relief that they did not question me.
Then I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The sun was just rising as I had awoken before sunrise to be there before the crowd. I could hear the crows caw as I viewed a building that three major religions all revere. The Jews and Christians believe this is the place where the Ark of the Covenant was held and the place from where God first created the world.
The Muslims believe this is the place from where the Prophet Muhammad left earth on the night of his famous night journey, visiting heaven, without dying, and returning to speak about it. Muslims believed he left his footprint in the creation stone. To sum up, words cannot truly express my gratitude that I was able to see a monument that is so beautiful yet so hotly contested.
TT: Stunning. How do you find your travel grant opportunities, and how do you fund your trips?
T: I mostly find my travel opportunities from teacher travel grants websites. My opportunity to travel to Dubai and Abu Dhabi was funded by the world Affairs Council. My opportunity to present at the conference in Istanbul was funded by a grant from the Qatar Foundation. My opportunity to visit Jerusalem was funded by the Echoes And Reflections program at Yad Vashem.
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and as a person?
T: My travels have completely enhanced my instruction at a level that is immeasurable. If you are interested in seeing a tremendous depth of takeaways from my travels feel free to visit my blog.
TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel scholarships?
T: My advice for teachers who are dreaming of traveling is to regularly check websites such as this one — especially the directory of 200 teacher travel grants. Also, go to the Center for Middle Eastern Studies website and sign up for the regular newsletter. It is packed with great information!
TT: Thanks so much, Tara! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English from Boston who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched TeachingTraveling.com in 2010 to share expert global education resources, and over 1.6 million readers have visited over the past decade. Lillie also runs AroundTheWorld L.com Travel and Life Blog, and DrawingsOf.com for educational art. Do stay in touch via subscribing to her monthly newsletter, and following @WorldLillie on social media!