10 November 2010

Some Program Philosophy

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn”.
-Benjamin Franklin

The CIEE programs philosophy of education captures the essence of intrapersonal development, collaboration, self-empowerment and direct engagement in the learning process. CIEE offers a personalized, community based, holistic alternative to mainstream education. My ambition to pursue a study abroad program involving an alternative education model stemmed from my passion for adventure and interest in experiential learning. I aspired to participate in a program that would challenge me personally, intellectually, and academically. Nearly 2 months ago, I arrived in Bangkok wide-eyed and apprehensive. Thus far, my experiences throughout the semester have tested my limits, broadened my horizons, and exceeded my expectations.

The program is structured to offer students the opportunity to organize and facilitate informal/formal academic spaces. The semester is divided into 5 units. Each unit focuses on protection of human rights in communities throughout Northeastern Thailand. Themes include civil, political, economic, and social issues. Our first unit was based on traditional agricultural production and organic farming. Rather than being confined to the classroom, our student group explored the issue hands on by visiting Yasthon, a self-sufficient community in the midst of transitioning to chemical free agricultural production. We spent 5 days in Yasothon exchanging with villagers and grassroots organizations (Alternative Agricultural Network), helping our host families sell at the ‘Green Market’, and even breaking a sweat in the rice fields. Our second unit focused urban development schemes, landfills, and slum communities. Again, the program did not rely on textbooks and traditional academia to provide us with insights and solutions. We set out to work with scavengers in the landfill belonging to the Khon Kaen municipality. Believe it or not, my 9 ‘farang’ (foreigner) friends and I accompanied our host families to ‘Trash Mountain’ in hopes of collecting an ample supply of recyclables to earn a days wage. Living in the Kham Bon village, which neighbors the landfill, was enlightening. I was forced to face the issues of access to housing, political rights, civil services, environmental protection, and social security full on. We also had the opportunity to visit Nong Waen, a slum/squatter community in the course of being evicted and displaced by a railroad company. Exchanging with slum dwellers offered a deeper understanding of the complexities of accessing property rights. Home stays and exchanges with villagers are a core component of the CIEE alternative education model. Active service learning within raw cultural immersion experiences raises consciousness and fosters a discovery of the self.

Katherine Cooney
University of Minnesota


Jake T said...

I too believe that the experimental model that ciee presented has been very beneficial. But even more important to me than all the home stays and learning all the knowledge about the various issues, has been this idea of working in a group. I really think that this concept has been the most invaluable out of anything we have learned.
For instance, I will never probably study agriculture or water related issues again. And while it was important for me to learn about these things and become aware of them, learning how to work in a group, facilitate discussions, and contribute to an overall goal is something that I will be able to apply to any situation. Regardless where life takes me, I will now have more confidence in conducting meetings, participating within groups, and knowing what a complete, final project is like. In fact, I feel that any business or process that relies on a group of people for completion should have to go through this. It is something that has changed my life for good.

Maddie said...

Thanks for your post. I really enjoyed it. Upon arriving to Thailand I was not quite clear about what I’d be doing here. I knew there was some talk about the mysterious group process, but I had no idea what that was. I knew there was some talk about not having any textbooks, and that’s when I sealed the deal and signed up for CIEE Thailand. Haha, just kidding. But really, CIEE Thailand’s look at education is one that was unfamiliar to me. Growing up with westernized education, I knew nothing more than reading books, studying for tests, taking exams, and getting grades. I never complained. I liked it. It often times made me feel “smart.” But that was before I’d been introduced to alternative education. My introduction and participation in the CIEE educational model has made be the see the world through an entire different lens. It has changed me as student, a group member, a friend, and a person. I am thankful for what I have learned this past semester, but I will be eternally thankful for HOW I’ve learned. So, thanks CIEE, I really appreciate it.

earth songs said...

Thanks for the post katie. I remember signing up for the program after reading the line in the brochure “the program believes in the power of one but much more so the power of the individual in the group (or something like that).” The program completely changed what I thought about education and what an educated person is. I read my answers from our predepature activity the other day and I was shocked at how much I have changed in only 3.1 months. Thailand has taught me so much more about the issues like sustainable agriculture, urban trends, human rights, water, and mining because these issues now have a face to them. In school, it is so easy to hear about a problem, memorize it, take a test, and maybe discuss some possible solutions but never to think about it again after the class ends. This educational model taught me not only to be aware of issues but to also take action.