The American Dream: Myth or Reality?” Guest Blog by Lisa Mave

Photo credit: Lisa Mave.

The American Dream: Myth or Reality?” Guest Blog by Lisa Mave on the 2016 Program of the Study of the United States Institutes (SUSI)

Lisa Mavé is an alumna of the SUSI program in June/July of 2016. Lisa is Head of the Social Sciences Faculty at St Cuthbert’s College in Auckland. She is responsible for coordinating the Social Studies, Geography and History programs for Years 9 – 13 students at the College. Lisa is also Head of History and teaches History to Year 11, 12 & 13 students.

What was the focus of your recent SUSI program?

The Study of the United States Institutes (SUSIs) are programs funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US State Department. Their mission is to promote mutual understanding between the United States and other countries by providing educators with the opportunity to study on a U.S. campus. The SUSI program involves lectures, seminars and workshops delivered by U.S. educators, scholars and professionals. It also involves interaction with members of the community and opportunities to experience diversity on study tours.

My program was hosted by the University of Illinois, in Urbana-Champaign from 18 June to 30 July of 2016.  The focus of the SUSI was ‘The American Dream: Myth or Reality.’  It examined how education, geography, immigration, racial, ethnic and religious diversity, as well as economic growth, technological advancement, and politics shaped the national character within the framework of the American Dream. We participated in lectures, workshops and seminars facilitated by academic staff from the University as well as visiting speakers from the community. 

2016 SUSI Participants at the U.S. Department of Education. Photo credit: Lisa Mave.
2016 SUSI Participants at the U.S. Department of Education. Photo credit: Lisa Mave.

Can you give us some specific examples of lessons learned from your U.S. experience (or from other colleagues on the program)?

I had a good general knowledge of U.S. history, politics and the nature of society but the SUSI allowed me to deepen that understanding. It gave me the ability and inspiration to include U.S. content into the courses that I deliver. Content delivered on the development of identity, racial conflict and gender issues was particularly interesting to me. The similarities between the U.S. and New Zealand experience made the idea of comparative studies appealing.

The lectures and seminars were academically stimulating. We had time to read, we watched films and participated in panel discussions to share our responses to what we were learning. We also learnt about the U.S. education system and pedagogical approaches and considered practical applications of the content we learned. The generosity of the lecturers and speakers who provided us with their notes, readings and source ideas was remarkable.

Twenty people from 18 countries participated in this year’s program. Participants from countries as diverse as Chad, Lebanon, Greece, Vietnam, Nepal, Brazil and New Zealand were a mixture of primary, secondary and tertiary educators who specialised in the teaching of History, Geography, Social Studies or English language. Discussing our cross-cultural a1nd multi-discipline reactions to what we were learning, as well as comparing it with our own experiences was as much a learning experience as our study of the American Dream.

2016 SUSI Participants from around the world. Photo credit: Lisa Mave.
2016 SUSI Participants from around the world. Photo credit: Lisa Mave.

Were there lessons you could bring from your academic career in NZ that you could share with your colleagues in the U.S. and from overseas?

The educators in the Faculty of Education and 10 U.S. teachers who joined us for one week were envious of aspects of the New Zealand education system including the emphasis on pedagogy in our Curriculum document, the nature of professional learning in New Zealand schools, the role of middle leaders and the funding of our state schools.

It was humblng to learn about the challenges that many of the other SUSI participants face including lack of job security, the financial need to work 2 to 3 jobs and class sizes of 50 – 300 students.

Native American historians and community leaders were interested to learn about the Maori experience of colonisation, the Treaty of Waitangi and the resurgence of Maori culture and language since the mid 20th century.

How much time did you get off from your exchnge to see the U.S.?

Study tours were a significant part of experiencing diversity in the U.S. and as a means of understanding the American character. We went on a number of day trips from the University in Illinois to the Cahokia Mounds, St. Louis, Springfield and a unique day spent with the Amish community.

We spent a few days in Texas visiting a stockyard, the Texas State Senate, the Alamo, experiencing horse riding on a ranch and learning about the impact of settlement of the State on Native Americans. An optional overnight visit to Chicago allowed us to experience its incredible architecture, art and culture. A highlight for many participants was the week long study tour to New York where we had the opportunity to visit the most well known sites including the Statue of Liberty, places of historical significance such as Harlem and enjoy American cultural experiences such as a Yankees game and a Broadway show. Our final trip was to Washington, D.C. where we visited museums, the United States Capitol and participated in discussions at the Education and State Departments.

Lisa Mave receives SUSI award. Photo credit: Lisa Mave.
Lisa Mave receives SUSI award. Photo credit: Lisa Mave.

What did the SUSI program mean to you?

It was fantastic to be a learner again. To have the opportuntiy, time and resources to indulge a teacher’s interest in history, culture and society was an incredible experience. I learnt so much and have returned to New Zealand with a new personal interest in the history of the U.S. and enthusiasm for how I can apply that to my teaching.

The program was organised incredibly well and the staff who worked with us made the experience much more than an educational one. The generosity of the people in the Urbana-Champaign community who invited us to their schools, homes, Fourth of July celebrations, concerts, wine tastings, sporting events and churches had as big an impact on our appreciation of American culture as our academic syllabus did. I have made enduring connections with many of the people we engaged with in the U.S. and with the other participants from around the world.

It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my teaching career & I feel so grateful to the State Department for making it possible. I would highly recommend this opportunity to other teachers.



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