Through the Eyes of an Educator: The Republic of The Maldives

by Stacey Ebert / Oct 03, 2016 /
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For my fortieth birthday, I was in search of a new experience. After years of teaching and having a birthday around the first day of school, this new phase of my life allowed for an opportunity for a whole different approach to the first week of September. That type of curiosity, interest in seeking anew, desire to change things up, and thoughtful search for adventure are all things I always wished for my students. I hoped that whether in my class, in their high school experience, or at some point in their life, they’d find that fire inside to search for grand journeys near or far. I hoped that by sharing a love of travel, the benefits of education, and showcasing geography and culture of places far flung around the world that one day they’d choose their own adventure while continuing to learn along the way.

In teaching ninth grade global history in New York, the first few weeks are made up of map-reading skills, world geography, and the explanation of culture, trade, cultural diffusion, interdependence, and cultural diversity. Researching, finding out about, journeying to, and being in the Maldives conquered all of these topics, as well. Terms such as prime meridian, climate zone, and archipelago are thrown around Global History classes, yet it’s often difficult for students to see them in real life perspectives. Venturing to the Maldives does exactly that.

Through the Eyes of an Educator: The Republic of The Maldives

From New York, we flew to Dubai and onto Male, the capital of the Maldives. On our return, we had three stops (Sri Lanka, Dubai, and Milan) before returning to New York. Time zones, layovers, jetlag, different cuisines, languages, and more…this travel journey encompassed far more than any map skills lesson ever could. Comprised mostly of atolls (‘ring shaped coral reef or a string of closely spaced coral islands, enclosing or nearly enclosing a shallow lagoon’ (Dictionary)), the twenty plus islands make up the entire country of the Republic of the Maldives. North of the equator, east of the prime meridian, south of Sri Lanka, and west of Singapore - these unique islands situated in the Indian Ocean make up one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever seen in the entire world. Channeling both cultural diffusion and diversity, the Maldivian culture has been influenced by the way of life from Sri Lanka, northern Africa, and the Arab world. The Maldivian people have come to create a culture all their own.

The Maldives opened to tourism in the 1970s, and is considered today as a leader in the industry. Global history students learn about the opening of trade with Marco Polo’s arrival in China and the interdependence and need for environment protection with the trade and transportation of raw materials, like silk. Here, they can see first-hand the implications of that global cooperation and openness through the tourism practices of these atolls. International flights to the Maldives land in Male, the country’s capital city and seat of all three branches of government power. Considered to be one of the world’s most populated cities, Male welcomes international travelers before they head off to many of the more remote atolls.

We stayed at the oldest resort in the Maldives and the first to welcome tourists to the islands over forty years ago. Known for its tourism acclaim, eco-friendly coral reef, clear blue water, and desire to showcase the best of culture, you can imagine how spectacular our visit was. Whether on or off of our tiny atoll, people were kind, customs were shared, and communications kept open. The national language is Dhivehi, and the national religion, Islam. Set smack dab in the center of centuries old trade routes navigating the Indian Ocean, students and travelers can find history, culture, and life on the sea to be front and center amongst the inhabitants of this island nation. The islands and inhabitants provide a living primary source document of history book texts. Serving another perfect example of global interdependence for students and travelers alike, the geographic location of the Republic of the Maldives served early sea travelers with a refueling and resupply station in the middle of their travels. In American Global History classes, there is little taught of this island nation. Although students learn about the Arabian Peninsula and the culture and history of India, little is spoken about the significant lands of the ocean between them.

Through the Eyes of an Educator: The Republic of The Maldives

The entire trip was absolutely fantastic. Each day we met someone nicer than the last. As the culture of the Maldivian people has for years been influenced by various peoples from Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, northern Africa, and others, some of the food we encountered met with the same multicultural diversity of flavor. Dishes with Indian and south Asian spices, noodle and rice dishes we’ve found on other travels to the region, new seafood indigenous to the surrounding waters, as well as traditional western fare were all there. Hospitality is one of the top economic endeavors of the country; as such, often the interactions with locals are exceptionally friendly and helpful.

Through the Eyes of an Educator: The Republic of The Maldives

For a half-day adventure, we ventured into the city of Male. A small boat took us from our little atoll nearby across the waters and onto the mainland. Here we visited many of the religious and historical sites of the Maldivian people. We saw the main hangout at Republic Square, which also houses the headquarters of the Maldivian National Defense Force and the headquarters of the Maldivian Police Service. We visited the Islamic Centre to learn about architecture, religious history, and see how the customs of both national heritage and religion are captured inside. When entering the mosque, we observed the traditional culture and removed our shoes, while I covered my head and shoulders. We stopped at a thriving fish market to chat with locals and discuss one of their most famous exports, tuna. I had never seen fish this big in my life. Historians, architects, marine biology fans, and those interested in various cultural customs will thrive here.

Through the Eyes of an Educator: The Republic of The Maldives

Travel provides learning like no other. Although we thought of this as a beach holiday, it seemed although you take the teacher out of the classroom, she might find one in the last place she ever thought to look. Those terms that sparked conversation all those years ago in my ninth grade classes are found here. Global interdependence, archipelago, cultural diffusion, and diversity – these were no longer words to memorize or terms to tick off on a multiple-choice test. Various airlines showcase culture through their staff, décor, and food. Various airports provide opportunities to interact with internationals and locals on their home turf. And of course, crossing various time zones intersperses science, math, and global understanding throughout your travels.

Through the Eyes of an Educator: The Republic of The Maldives

The classroom doesn’t have to be traditional, and the books don’t have to have pages or covers. Travel brings learning alive and makes it the focus, instead of a set within a forty-minute period stuck in the middle of an entire day. We expected the Maldives to be a beautiful beach, and it was. I didn’t expect to ask as many educational questions as I did, to have as many of those ‘teachable moments’ as I experienced, or to crave a return so fiercely. School isn’t something you attend for thirteen years and then ditch completely. Travel continues your learning journey, taking you from course to course often opening up new and unexpected worlds you never before dreamed. Check out The Maldives – you’ll be glad you did.

Through the Eyes of an Educator: The Republic of The Maldives

 

Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand. Check out her website at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com for more of her travel musings.
 
All photos courtesy and copyright Stacey Ebert

 

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