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August 13, 2014 — Caitlyn Bratt of Douglas 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.
“Going to Nepal to complete this internship was a great opportunity for me to work in a diverse culture and see how these children learn,” says Bratt, who will be a senior at UW this fall. “I wanted to get to know this culture and spend time with these children so I could have a better understanding of what the world is like outside of my little bubble. I feel like I learned so many invaluable things that I would never had been able to experience in American classrooms.”
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.”
Bratt says her most significant internship experience was helping a kindergartner overcome her fear of getting into a swimming pool.
“I was able to spend an hour or so working with a girl who had begun the trip terrified to get in the water and left the pool excited and reluctant to leave,” she says. “It was the most gratifying experience I have ever been through to know that I made a difference for one child.”
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.
“The people embraced us so intensely that we felt loved and warmly welcomed by everyone,” Bratt 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.
“This experience taught me how to work under challenging situations and think on my toes without using any resources or support,” Bratt says. “Working with students in a completely different culture helped prepare me to teach in diverse classrooms, creating an equal relationship between students and teachers.”
University of Wyoming student Caitlyn Bratt of Douglas poses with children in her class during her early childhood education internship in Nepal this summer. (UW Photo)