Canada Snyder

An Iowa teacher is one of only a dozen educators from across the U.S. chosen to take a trip to the Middle East next month.

Canada Snyder of Johnston, who teaches social studies at Central Academy in Des Moines, is part of the 2019 Educator Study Tour to the United Arab Emirates. Synder says she looks forward to soaking up all she can learn about the culture in that nation. “My project proposal was based on women’s educational opportunities in the UAE at the high school and college levels,” Snyder says. “I will have access to the equivalent of high school teachers there and also university and college professors and government officials.”

Women in some Middle Eastern countries face much stricter regulations than in the U.S. Some aren’t allowed to pursue an education or even drive cars. As a guest of the World Affairs Council and the United Arab Emirates Embassy to the United States, Synder understands some rules won’t apply to her, but others will. “I know that I’ll have to have my head covered and then, typically, you just have your shoulders all the way down to you knees covered as well,” Synder says. “It’s just modest clothing.”

Snyder says she likes to challenge traditional history lessons by, what she calls, “disrupting the historical narrative” and opening up students’ experiences to “more diversity and diverse historical interpretations.” This trip to the UAE offers an ideal opportunity to do just that. “My real goal is to be able to take that cultural experience and further my understanding of the Middle East back to my students here at Central Academy at Des Moines Public Schools and help students understand or see or experience themselves why those cultural differences exist.”

Synder will be in Chicago this weekend as her students’ Model United Nations Club attends a convention assembling some 10-thousand students from across the U.S. In recent years, she took a group of Iowa students to Peru, with other expeditions to China and Germany. This spring, she’s taking yet another group of teens to Greece and Italy.

“Some of my students might not ever leave the state of Iowa,” Synder says, “so being able to have photographs or show them artifacts and documents from where I have traveled opens up kids’ minds that travel is an essential part of our globalized world.” Instead of just having students read about other cultures or watch films, she goes the distance, like when she recently convinced Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States to visit her classroom.

Synder is in her 21st year of teaching and she’ll be in the UAE from March 8th through the 17th.

Audio: Matt Kelley interview with Snyder. 5:55.