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UW-Casper Student Gains Skills, Perspective in Nepal

August 13, 2014
People in swimming pool
University of Wyoming-Casper student Hannah Wille helps a child during a swimming lesson as part of her early childhood education internship in Nepal earlier this summer. (UW Photo)

Hannah Wille of Casper is one of six University of Wyoming early childhood education students who say they will be better teachers as a result of experiences they gained during a three-week visit to Nepal this summer.

The students completed the capstone experience for their early childhood education endorsement by teaching as interns in early childhood classrooms in Kathmandu. It was the first international early childhood experience ever offered through the UW College of Education.

“Everything about the trip was memorable and will benefit my future as a teacher and person,” says Wille, who will be a senior at UW-Casper this fall. “I will feel the ripple effects of this experience for years to come.”

The trip was arranged by early childhood faculty members Samara Madrid and Nikki Baldwin, who accompanied the students as supervisors after visiting Nepal in the summer of 2013. The two built upon the College of Education’s existing relationship with Kathmandu University in mathematics education.

The UW students worked full time in two Kathmandu schools -- Bridgewater International School and the Montessori Children’s House -- teaching children from 1 to 7 years old. In addition to assisting the teachers at the schools, they took over and led classroom activities, requiring them to learn and understand the schools’ curriculum and assessment practices.

“Our purpose was to instill in our students an understanding of schools as a medium that communicates culture in really powerful ways,” Baldwin says. “When we’re outside our culture, it sort of strips down teaching experiences and causes us to look at things through a different lens.

“Teaching is a culturally embedded practice. So, when we come back to Wyoming, we’re a lot more able to recognize all the culturally embedded practices in our own classrooms. By challenging our assumptions, we can look at our practices a little differently.”

Baldwin says the students performed so well that several were asked to return to Nepal and even were offered jobs as teachers and teaching trainers.

“It was a really big success,” she says. “It demonstrated the strength of our early childhood training in the College of Education.”

Wille says her most significant internship experience was observing the generosity and kindness of the Nepali people, illustrated by a child named Devansh in her classroom of 28 students from ages 3 to 6.

“Every day for the first week I would attempt, to no avail, to pronounce his name. He would work with me, ever patient, saying his name over and over until I could finally say it by Friday,” Wille says. “Devansh never seemed frustrated or bothered by me trying to say his name. This taught me to consider and improve my interactions with people.”

The students had memorable experiences outside the educational setting as well. All of them noted the friendly, kind reception they received from the Nepali people.

On one trip into the countryside outside Kathmandu, the students noticed people planting rice together as families and were intrigued by the activity. At the invitation of their tour guide, the students spontaneously took off their shoes, rolled up their pants and joined in the rice planting.

“I can tell countless stories that exemplify the kindness of Nepali people; in fact, I only have good stories to tell about Nepali people,” Wille says.

Baldwin says she and Madrid hope to make the trip to Nepal for early childhood education students a regular opportunity. This year’s successful trip sets the stage for expansion, as connections were made with additional schools as potential placement sites and with a second university, Tribuvan University.

The students who completed the inaugural trip heartily recommend that others take part in future visits to Nepal.

“It was a life-changing experience,” Wille says. “The culture, Nepali people, teaching experience and environment were amazing.”

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