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UW Early Childhood Education Students Gain Skills, Perspective in Nepal

August 13, 2014
UW Students and Nepalese children
University of Wyoming early childhood education students and faculty supervisors pose with a group of children during this summer’s trip to Nepal, the first international early childhood experience ever offered through the College of Education. Six students completed the capstone experience for their early childhood education endorsement by teaching as interns in early childhood classrooms in Kathmandu. (UW Photo)

Six students in the University of Wyoming’s early childhood education program 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 Hannah Wille of Casper, who will be a senior at UW-Casper this fall. “I will feel the ripple effects of this experience for years to come.”

Wille and two other students who made the trip to Nepal will enter their final year at UW this fall. For the other three students, the Nepal trip was the last piece of their UW education, as they’ve graduated and soon will start their teaching careers.

“While spending every day teaching in Nepali classrooms, I was reminded of the joy I feel from simply learning with and teaching children,” says Lauren Carlisle of Lovell, who will begin her career as a first-grade teacher at Slade Elementary School in Laramie this fall. “I was reminded why it is I spent four years in college training to become an educator.”

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.”

Seeing a different approach to teaching had an impact on the students. For example, Carlisle notes that each Nepali classroom had two teachers, instead of the one typical of U.S. classrooms.

UW students prepare to plant rice during a trip to the Nepali countryside, a spontaneous activity that proved to be one of the student's most memorable experiences. (UW Photo)

“I learned that it’s not important to determine which way is better or worse, but rather value each irrespective of the other,” she says. “Ultimately, I learned and am still practicing to treat things differently, and not comparatively.”

“I was able to experience a completely different way of teaching and to see how there is not just one way that is best when teaching children,” says Nicole Clikeman of Gillette, a new UW graduate. “From a personal standpoint, I learned a lot about myself and the way I would like to live my life.”

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.”

The students had memorable experiences outside the classroom 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 was amazed at how kind these people were -- accepting and genuine,” Carlisle says. “Just thinking about the experience makes my heart want to go back to those sweet people.”

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.

“This experience taught me how to work under challenging situations and think on my toes without using any resources or support,” says Caitlyn Bratt of Douglas, who’ll be a senior at UW this fall. “Working with students in a completely different culture helped prepare me to teach in diverse classrooms, creating an equal relationship between students and teachers.”

“I experienced a huge amount of personal and academic growth,” says Tyler Tresch of Strasburg, Colo., who will be a senior at UW this fall. “Academically, I was given the opportunity to apply my course learning in an environment where there was no one there to rescue me. It was both liberating and terrifying, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

Also taking part in the trip was new UW graduate Cristina Cox of Cheyenne.

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