International Education Week

Virginia Tech is celebrating International Education Week from Nov. 7-14. Explore more international-themed stories.

For nearly a decade, Joseph Mukuni, collegiate associate professor in Virginia Tech's School of Education, has been taking students and educators to his home country, Zambia, to help them learn about culturally relevant instruction.

Mukuni has deep roots in Zambia. A significant number of family members still live there, and he left the country in 2009 to join Virginia Tech as a Ph.D. candidate. Because of this extensive experience in both cultures, Mukuni feels he is uniquely equipped as a study abroad leader.

Each year, he leads a popular monthlong study abroad trip to Zambia.

“It’s an advantage, but it also raises the need for me to be very involved in planning the itinerary and the content students see and experience,” Mukuni said. “For me, I'm aware of the two worlds where my students are now and where the students in Zambia are.”  

Study abroad programs can help students and educators expand their worldviews and consider how cultural differences affect teaching and learning, workplaces, and communities, offering them insights and better equipping them to work with diverse populations.

Educators visit Zambia as part of a study abroad trip
Educators visit Zambia as part of a study abroad trip led by Joseph Mukuni. Photo courtesy of Mike Shumate.

During the Mukuni’s study abroad program, students learn about the business and education sectors of Africa and get the opportunity to explore the natural wonders of the area.

Mike Shumate, a high school teacher at Menchville High School in Newport News, joined Mukuni on several study abroad trips in both Zambia and Afghanistan. He said the experiences changed his perspective on teaching.

“I have learned from my study abroad experiences that I need to find out about my students’ cultures,” said Shumate, who graduated from Virginia Tech in 2021 with a doctorate. “I talk to parents, I talk to students, and I try to understand how students may view lessons and learning environments through their own cultural lenses. It has helped me be more empathetic and understanding and develop culturally relevant instruction.”

Through study abroad experiences, students also learn important life skills, such as how to persist in the face of obstacles.

For example, after observing a class in Zambia for some time, one of Mukuni’s students was given the opportunity to teach. The student planned to use PowerPoint in her lesson. But on that particular day, there was no electricity.

“She came back very disappointed,” Mukuni said. “But we sat down after that class and my colleague Bill Price and I said, ‘OK, now that you know that electricity may not always be there, how else could you have taught the concepts that you were trying to teach?’”

After that conversation, she regained her composure and started replanning the lesson using other visual aids and resources.  

“When she had a second chance to teach that concept again, she came back smiling,” said Mukuni.   

This summer, Mukuni will be taking students to Zambia twice - for his study abroad trip and a Fulbright scholarship program. 

The traditional study abroad program is mainly designed for students. The Fulbright-funded program is for high school teachers of career and technical education programs. These are programs that combine vocational skills and academic knowledge that students need to succeed in the workforce, such as  marketing education, agricultural education, and family and consumer sciences.

As the world becomes more interconnected and diverse, teachers increasingly need opportunities to learn from and with others whose culture and life experiences may be different from their own.  

“We are becoming one global village, which is getting smaller and smaller every day,” said Mukuni

Mukuni’s program, Teaching and Learning in Zambia, accepts applications through Feb. 28, and is open to students of all majors. Next year's trip will be June 5-July 3.

Written by Alexandra Krens