Studying teachers of Syrian refugees in Jordan – Michael Acosta

Michael Acosta spent a year in Jordan on a Boren Fellowship before returning to complete his studies at UMass College of Education in 2016. In addition to attending 20 hours per week of intensive Arabic language classes, he conducted research on Jordanian teachers’ opinions of effective conflict mediation techniques used in classrooms with Syrian refugee students.

“[The topic] really interests me,” he said, “I had been reading a lot in the Jordanian press about a fear of violence occurring due to unresolved psychological issues among refugees”. Michael developed his research proposal with the help of the college's Center for International Education's  faculty member, Jacqi Mosselson. He had been taking a research methods class with her, and had done a literature review of educational issues in the Middle East.

He carried out his research in 4 schools in an industrial area of Amman—3 all-male schools and 1 all-female school. One of these schools was on a “double shift” system where Jordanian students studied in the morning and Syrian refugees in the afternoon, while the rest had mixed classes of Jordanian and Syrian students.

At the same time, Michael was living and volunteering at a shelter for at-risk Jordanian boys. His role was to teach English to the boys, but he quickly found that they needed extra psychological support and study skills to even learn how to learn— “even letters were hard for a 16 year old,” he said. He began to offer one-on-one tutoring, covering things like “how to deal with education.”

Michael greatly enjoyed his time in Jordan, although he found it challenging due to his limited language skills and also bureaucratic problems he encountered— “[it seemed like] things went really slowly and really quickly at the same time,” he reflected. However, he had a positive experience working with the Ministry of Education, due to personal connections he was able to forge. For example, he had reached out to a professor at the University of Jordan who was very helpful in introducing him to people.

Over the summer, Michael served as Country Director for a U.S. Department of Education-funded organization for American high school students learning Arabic in Jordan.

“Working in a foreign culture made me realize how many assumptions we have, which may or may not be true,” he said. “And in a conflict-affected situation, things can change a lot and very quickly.”

Michael will be using the results of his research for his Master’s Capstone Project.
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Michael is a 2nd year master’s student. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar and has taught English in South Korea and Saudi Arabia. He is interested in conflict and peace mediation education.

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