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a picture outside of the Mandela House in Soweto, South Africa
In Your Voice

Taking a Global View of Education

2023 NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellow Sara Medalen shares about the field study in South Africa she completed in South Africa as a fellow.
Sara Medalen at Blythe River Canyon

As a young girl growing up in a small, rural North Dakotan town, I would often find myself enchanted by the glossy pages of my family's encyclopedias. I dreamed of exploring new landscapes, experiencing other cultures, and meeting the diverse people on those pages. Encyclopedias were, to me, what Rudine Sims Bishop eloquently describes as books serving as windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors for readers. They acted as windows, allowing me to peer into the lives of others; mirrors, reflecting my own experiences; and sliding-glass doors, calling me to step inside the pages and immerse myself in the worlds created by authors.

Becoming a 2023 NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellow was like watching my dreams come to life. The encyclopedia pages transformed into living stories as I had the opportunity to take part in a transformative journey with educators from across the United States, culminating with a field study in South Africa. 

About the NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellowship

The NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellowship offers educators the opportunity, through professional development, to cultivate the knowledge and skills necessary to advocate for global competency and empower students to thrive in our increasingly interconnected world. Fellows collaborated in mentor groups to create lessons incorporating the Sustainable Development Goals to empower students to think globally.

The theme for my group was the global impact of mirrors, windows, and doors, and our projects were designed to help students see the importance of diversity and finding the beauty in our similarities and differences. These lesson plans are available on the NEA Foundation page as our contribution to the field of global learning. 

Check out the 2023 Global Learning Fellow Lesson Plans

Highlights from the Field Study

Inxiweni Primary School
Inxiweni Primary School

Selecting a highlight from the trip to South Africa is impossible, but the school visits will forever hold a special place in my heart. The instant we walked into the schools and connected with the teachers and students, it felt as if we had found a home away from home. The rich culture and diversity of the country were evident as we experienced daily school routines along with singing, dancing, and joy. While apartheid has ended, however, the effects of it are apparent in the South African school system.

The education system faces challenges including racial segregation and equal access to quality education.

South Africa’s very own Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Visiting Nelson Mandela's home was a profound experience. Walking through the rooms where a great leader once lived brought history to life. Mandela's legacy, felt throughout the home, emphasized the crucial role education plays in shaping a better future. Meeting with community groups and education leaders and learning about their efforts to provide equal access to quality education for all provided hope for the future.

a picture outside of the Mandela House in Soweto, South Africa

Going on safari in the Kruger National Park Safari exceeded all expectations. As we embarked on our safari, the thrill of searching for the Big Five — lions, elephants, water buffaloes, leopards, and rhinoceros was our mission. We were able to spot a lion, leopards, elephants, and water buffaloes but were unsuccessful in spotting the elusive rhinoceros. Watching the elephants and giraffes during our safari was a mesmerizing experience, as their sheer size and graceful movements along the African landscape showcased the beauty of nature.

Quote bySara Medalen , 2023 NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellow

Bonding with like-minded educators has led to networking opportunities that have enriched my life both personally and professionally.
—Sara Medalen , 2023 NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellow
Sara Medalen on Boulder beach

I didn’t anticipate the deep connections and friendships I’ve made with global fellows from my cohort. Bonding with like-minded educators has led to networking opportunities that have enriched my life both personally and professionally. Our shared experiences laid the foundation for future collaborations, fostering a global community of educators. 

South Africa is a culturally rich country that is still navigating racial landscapes post-apartheid. The experiences this fellowship provide, including hearing firsthand accounts of South Africa's tumultuous past left an indelible mark on me. The harsh realities of apartheid highlight the importance of teaching tolerance and understanding in classrooms. 

Apply for the NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellowship

The NEA Foundation logo

According to the NEA Foundation, the top requirement for this program is caring about the world and sharing that passion with your students. If you fit that description, consider applying for the NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellowship. The NEA Foundation will begin accepting applications for the 2025 Global Learning Fellowship on December 1.

Learn more about the fellowship

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With more than 11,500 members across the state, NDU supports equal opportunities for success for ALL North Dakota students, and respect and support for all educators. NDU members are teachers, community college professors, speech pathologists, bus drivers, secretaries, retired educators and student teachers.