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

July 6, 2016
woman pllaying in the sand with a small child
Student Kelsy Wooldridge, of Gillette, plays with a child at the MotherCare International Preschool in Kathmandu, Nepal, during her University of Wyoming internship earlier this summer. (UW Photo)

Kelsy Wooldridge, of Gillette, 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.

“I can’t even begin to describe the amount of personal and professional growth that I’ve experienced as a result of this trip,” says Wooldridge, a junior in elementary education with a minor in early childhood education. “Personally, I think that spending time in Nepal has strengthened my sense of self -- I now realize how much my own culture has shaped every aspect of myself. Professionally, my time in Nepal has provided me with hands-on experience teaching in a multicultural context. As a result of this experience, I think that my relationship-building skills are much improved, as well as my ability to navigate and adapt to new social settings.”

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.

Wooldridge taught at MotherCare International Preschool, with 10 students between 18 months and 3 years old.

“I focused on learning and following the daily classroom routine, interacting with children in culturally appropriate ways, and building relationships with my teacher and other adults in the classroom,” she says. “My internship provided me with the opportunity to navigate the unfamiliar expectations and practices of Nepali culture, and to make truly meaningful connections with teachers and children.”

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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