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UW Early Childhood Student from Casper Gains Insights, Experience in Nepal

July 6, 2016
woman reading to several small children
Student Katrina Swanson, of Casper, reads a book to 5- and 6-year-olds at an international preschool in Kathmandu, Nepal, earlier this summer as part of her University of Wyoming internship. (UW Photo)

Katrina Swanson, of Casper, was one of 12 students in the University of Wyoming’s early childhood education program who gained insights they say will help them become better teachers during a three-week visit to Nepal this summer.

The students completed internships for their early childhood education and early childhood special education endorsements by teaching in classrooms in Kathmandu. This was the second group of UW students to make the trip to Nepal, following an inaugural visit by six UW early childhood students in 2014.

“Thinking back on the experience and everything I gained, not only personally but professionally, is overwhelming,” says Swanson, who is working toward a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a minor and endorsement in early childhood education. “Personally, I was able to completely immerse myself into an entirely different culture with different beliefs, foods, people and backgrounds, and learn so much from it. Professionally, I learned that children of different countries are no different than the children in my own culture and country. They may do things a bit differently, but in the end it is all the same.”

The trip was arranged by early childhood faculty members Samara Madrid and Nikki Baldwin, who accompanied the students as supervisors after leading the first group in 2014. The students participated in a semester’s worth of study and dialogue before going. Supporting the group were the Cheney International Center, the UW Outreach School, and the Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education.

“Our purpose was to provide College of Education students, many of whom have never traveled abroad, the opportunity to teach in early childhood classrooms in a completely different setting than those they may encounter here,” Baldwin says. “Teaching in a classroom with a distinctively different set of cultural norms and values allows students to look at themselves more closely. They come away with increased cultural understanding and the ability to question their assumptions. They need these skills in an increasingly complex teaching environment when they return home.”

The students were placed in four schools serving children and families from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds in Nepal -- including a school with high rates of poverty and homelessness; a preschool that might be considered upper-middle class; and a school that serves children of government officials, international families and private business people.

“These different placements provided excellent discussion points regarding similarities and differences between student experiences,” says Baldwin, who notes that the students participated in individual interviews and group seminars, in addition to completing teacher-journals reflecting their experiences.

Swanson worked in a classroom with 5- and 6-year-olds at an international preschool.

“I was constantly amazed at how advanced the children were in their education,” she says. “I learned that no matter where you are in the world, people are the same, and we all can connect in some wonderful way.”

Madrid and Baldwin plan to take another group of students to Nepal in two years. Madrid is researching the impact of the international experience on the UW students, with plans to publish results in the next year.

“There is very little published regarding international teaching in early childhood education,” Baldwin says. “We have established strong partnerships in Nepal that we will continue to cultivate.”

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