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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato


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Refugee Stories Become a Classroom

By Trey Mewes



Fartum Ali was only 12 years old when she was separated from her family.

A bomb had gone off inside her family's home in Somalia during the night, about eight years ago. After that, she and a few other family members walked on foot from Somalia to Kenya with several relatives. The month-long trip was done entirely at night.

According to Ali, soldiers roaming the countryside would have killed her and her family had they seen them during the day.

That's not a normal childhood for a typical American adult.

Yet that's why Ali and several of her Adult Basic Education classmates shared their stories of growing up as refugees and immigrants Thursday with Minnesota State University students.

"It's useful for my students," said Elizabeth Sandell, elementary education professor at MSU.

Sandell's class, Human Relations in a Multicultural Society, is a prerequisite for would-be teachers to show them how to be culturally competent — not to become an expert in various cultures, but to learn how to be receptive and accepting of people from different backgrounds.

To that end, she and Bette Blaisdell, an ABE teacher for Mankato Area Public Schools, put together an idea exchange over the past few weeks.

About 15 of Blaisdell's students came to MSU to discuss their experiences as refugees or immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. MSU students learned from them and then took the ABE students on campus tours to highlight what an MSU education could offer them.

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