Ten students from the University of Central Florida will leave for a remote region of Africa this week so that they can learn firsthand about education and democracy.

Led by Professor Karen Biraimah, director of international and special programs for the College of Education, the trip will enable UCF education students to gain hands-on-experience developing and implementing curriculum. Students will learn about the impact marginalization has on education in Botswana, and they’ll use what they learn abroad to address similar challenges for underserved students in the United States.

“We have to prepare our students to be ready for anything,” said Biraimah. “They will come prepared with several lessons about the United States and our education system that would be adaptable for ages 4 through 14. Hopefully, our students will be able to engage in one-to-one conversations with teachers. We’re coming in to learn, and hopefully we have teaching methods that can help them.”

Biraimah is no stranger to service-learning and teaching abroad. She lived and taught in a village in West Africa for two years, and she’s led trips to Malaysia, Singapore, Peru and Spain. In 2011, she took a group of graduate students and teachers to Botswana to develop curriculum and teach in several villages.

This time, UCF has coordinated with the University of Botswana in Gaborone to create lesson plans specifically for elementary through high school students. The UCF team leaves for Botswana on May 10. Their trip is funded by a three-year U.S. Department of State grant, which will pay for 75 percent of expenses this trip, 50 percent of the costs next year and 25 percent the following year.

To prepare for the three-week program, students have been meeting since January. They’ve read books and articles about Botswana and learned the country’s native language, Setswana.

“If you haven’t been in a country where you don’t speak the language, you’re not ready to teach,” said Biraimah.

In addition, the group has collected more than 600 pounds of clothing and school supplies that will be donated to schools when they arrive in Botswana. Each participant also raised $75 to pay the extra baggage fees, since the group will be brining 13 extra suitcases filled with donations.

For senior Philip Lacinak, who graduates in August with a degree in career and technical education, the trip will be his third to Africa. Lacinak previously traveled there as a cameraman for the syndicated documentary series Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild. Now an associate course director in photography at Full Sail University, Lacinak looks forward to teaching in the villages and bringing what he learns back to the U.S.

“I look forward to meeting the people that we’re going to meet along the way,” said Lacinak. “Both times that I visited Africa were life-changing experiences. We filmed wildlife, but the stories we came back with, the people we met, and the differences in cultures were most fascinating. I am certain that will be no different with Botswana.”

UCF senior Emmanuel Jackson, who is studying sociology and African studies, hopes that the program expands his perspective and helps him better mentor and tutor youth.

“I believe that what I learn in Botswana will allow me to share my experience with students in the United States and help them to appreciate and understand the importance of education,” said Jackson. “I hope to internationalize my thinking.”

After the program returns on May 31, Biraimah and the students will meet to record their experiences on the U.S. Department of State’s website. They’ll also help prepare the next group of UCF students traveling to Botswana.

Click here to learn more about the program.