Concord High students ‘travel around world’ by learning from New American peers 

  • Concord High students Jaxson Conway (center left), Elliot Dater-Roberts and Hannah Rote listen to Fred Nshimiyimana as he delivers his presentation on Rwanda last Wednesday.

  • Concord High senior Rovanee Nickson gets ready to present during the “travel the world” exercise last Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Shabin Subba explains the history and culture of Nepal during his presentation at Concord High School on Wednesday, October 9, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Anna-Marie DiPasquale introduces Concord High students to the Travel the World exercise on Wednesday, October 9, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord High student Hazma Abdulrahman talks about Sudan during a presentation on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The Concord High students participated in the Around the World presentation at the school on Wednesday, October 9, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/14/2019 7:13:29 PM

Over the course of just one class period, Concord High teacher Stacie Boyajian’s Geography and World Cultures class traveled to Liberia, Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda and Nepal.

A highlight from the 14- and 15-year-olds’ journey across continents was learning from senior Hazma Abdulrahman about henna tattoos, temporary tattoos made from dye that are worn for celebrations in Sudan. They got to experience colorful, rhythmic dancing in Liberia with senior Rovanee Nickson. And they were told about “bajaji,” a type of three-wheeled, open-air taxi in Tanzania that sophomore Odeyi Kizungu’s family operated when they lived there.

Before traveling to each new country, each member of the class’s yellow “CHS passports” were stamped by a different New American peer.

“Did you know you can literally travel around the world right here in Concord High School?” said Anna-Marie DiPasquale, Concord High’s school social worker, to the class. “Now, you do. And you know how lucky you are to go to a school where you can hear so much first-hand knowledge about different cultures.”

As part of a unit on human migration, each ninth-grade Geography and World Cultures class has spent the last two weeks traveling around the world and learning from 30 New American students from 14 countries who have prepared slideshows on their country’s government, schooling, traditions, food and sports. The freshman classes have met in a large room in the high school, where they have split into small groups of fewer than 10 students to visit different tables representing the cultures of Concord High students.

“You can learn about it in your book, but it’s much more fun when you can actually engage in conversations,” DiPasquale said. “You get to talk about what you’re learning and you get to hear about all the interesting things that are part of that country.

Boyajian said it is a unique opportunity that Concord High students have because of the diversity there.

“The longer I teach here, the more diverse the community is,” said Boyajian, who started at Concord High in 1994.

A refugee resettlement site, Concord High was 93% white 10 years ago. Now, 20% of its students are non-white.

More refugees have moved to Concord than any other New Hampshire city, according to state data. From 2011 to 2018, 1,242 refugees were resettled in Manchester. In the same time period, 1,292 refugees were resettled in Concord.

While the new American students spoke, their classmates took notes in their passport books.

They were fascinated by Nickson’s president, George Weah, one of the African continent’s most famous soccer players. They were surprised to learn that the military in Sudan is running the government during a time of political turmoil.

One student asked Abdulrahman if he liked living in the United States, and if he had any family still living back in Africa.

“My freshman year was my first year coming to the United States. It was hard at first, but it’s more safe. I do like it,” he said.

“Yes, my grandma,” he answered, about family back home. “I miss her.”

A few students spoke about life in refugee camps before coming to the United States.

Shabin Subba grew up in a refugee camp in Nepal. His family moved there in the 1990s, after being exiled from Bhutan.

“Families there lived in huts,” he said. “Right now in the camp, where I used to live before, there are 1,000 people. Before that, there were more than 10,000, but they all left to go to America, Australia, other countries.”

Freshman student Fiona Elliott said it was powerful to hear from her classmates on what it was like living in refugee camps, some for 10 or more years.

“It’s very eye-opening to know that some of these students were born in refugee camps. I think it’s a very stark contrast from how a lot of us live,” she said. “Since I was in elementary school, I knew that, but I didn’t really know their stories.”

She said it was also interesting to note the similarities between U.S. culture and others.

“I think a lot of the cultures from around the world are very different from the U.S., but a lot of the foods and cuisines from the countries in this room are very similar, which I think is really cool, along with the religions and sports, too,” she said. “It shows how this country is truly built on immigrants and the different cultures of people who moved here.”

Read Merrill said he liked that the lesson’s information was presented by students, instead of by a teacher or in a course book.

“You just get the first-hand accounts of what it’s really like instead of just learning from a third-person perspective,” he said.

After their experience traveling the world, the ninth-graders will be interviewing their own families for stories on how and why they came to the United States and comparing those stories with their classmates’ stories. Then, they will do research on what groups of people are moving around the planet now, and why.

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