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Programs in International and Comparative Education
Teachers College, Columbia University
Teachers College
Columbia University
ICE Alumni Profiles > Zohra Omar

Zohra Omar

TC Program: International Educational Development

TC Degree and Year of Graduation: MA, 2010

Integrative Project Title: The Challenges and Opportunities of Street Education

Before TC: Zohra was born and raised in Pakistan. She came to the United States for her undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania (UPENN) where she majored in psychology and minored in sociology. During her third year, she developed an interest in the concept of healthy environments for learning and began taking classes at the Graduate School of Education at UPenn. Zohra completed all the requirements for a Pennsylvania State teaching certification but unfortunately could not obtain certification because she is not a US citizen. Throughout this time, she coupled her academic coursework with international fieldwork experience during the 4 month long summer breaks. She travelled to Sri Lanka to volunteer after the tsunami, worked in Kashmir after the earthquake and represented Pakistan in a conference about nuclear disarmament in Japan. She eventually applied to the Curriculum and Teaching program at Teachers College. However, upon arrival at Teachers College she transferred to IED after meeting an incoming student who told her about the program. She immediately decided that it was a program that fit her interests and passions perfectly: “I didn’t even know what International Educational Development meant, but I knew it was the program for me!

While at TC: According to Zohra, the IED/CIE program at TC exceeded her expectations. She credits the program with providing her with a broad understanding of global and international issues in education and introducing her to the field of peace education. IED coursework helped Zohra make connections between academic concepts and her past field experiences in developing countries. She found her professors to be inspiring researcher-practitioners who drew on their own experiences as examples of applied work in IED. Furthermore, it was at TC that Zohra became interested in Latin America. I opened my eyes to a new world, a whole continent that I wanted to explore. Zohra pursued this interest in Latin America by applying for and obtaining travel grants to work with street children in Ecuador for a summer. In addition to her work with professors, Zohra highlights the role that her peers played in her learning and growth at TC. The diversity of the student body in the IED/CIE program was unique to her experiences in higher education, providing her with a multiplicity of perspectives on education and development, and a set of friends that she wants to hang on to for life.

After TC: After graduating from TC in 2010, Zohra traveled to the Dominican Republic for the summer to work with the DREAM (Dominican Republic Education and Mentoring) Project. As a teacher coach, she collaborated with local Dominican teachers to help them develop more interactive learning methodologies. She then transitioned into a more permanent full-time position with Escuela Nueva in Bogota, Colombia. She was drawn to the Escuela Nueva model (which she learned about in her Comparative Education class at TC). The model aims to transform conventional schooling through participatory and collaborative learning pedagogies. As the International Educational Specialist, Zohra was responsible for the enrichment of educational materials, improving their content and adding elements that foster participation and empathy in the classroom community. Zohra then returned to Pakistan for a short-term contract with Teach For Pakistan (the adaptation of the Teach For America model in Pakistan) where she directed the intensive training program that new, young teachers go through before being placed in low-income classrooms. Zohra now lives in Bogota, Colombia.

Words of Advice: Take a variety of classes. Be open to new experiences. Choose one professor and build a strong relationship with him/her. Build a strong network, a community of practice. Join a student organization. The Peace Education Network was an important part of my TC experience. It gave us a platform for organizing events and having greater, more diverse opportunities for learning. Look out for travel grants and internships. For the Integrated Project (IP), I recommend getting out of the classroom, doing a hands-on project and then writing about it (through action research or participant observation, for example). Designing your IP by way of a critical reflection about a project that you were a part of makes the writing process very enjoyable.