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UW Early Childhood Students from Laramie Gain Insights, Experience in Nepal

July 6, 2016
small child putting something in the outstretched hands of a woman
Student Kirsti Gapter, of Laramie, plays with children at a preschool in Kathmandu, Nepal, during her University of Wyoming internship earlier this summer. (UW Photo)

Three students from Laramie were among 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.

Sage Weber, Kirsti Gapter and Ashley Cometto were the students from Laramie on the trip.

“I don’t feel like I can do justice to the children I worked with, the professionals who taught me so much, the complex culture, the unique environment and the fellow UW students who I feel so lucky to have traveled with,” Weber says. “All I can say is that I have returned home with respect for the power of human connections and resilience, and tremendous gratitude for the fact that I was able to have an experience like this.”

“This experience gave me a great appreciation for travel, education and life,” Gapter says. “I would love to be able to travel and teach more in my career later on, and I think this trip opened some doors for more opportunities like this in the future.”

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.

woman with child holding a book in her lap

Student Sage Weber, of Laramie, poses with a child at Orchid Garden Nepal in Kathmandu during her University of Wyoming internship earlier this summer. (UW Photo)

Weber, a senior in philosophy with a minor in early childhood education, taught in a classroom for 4-year-olds at Orchid Garden Nepal, which serves the children of impoverished families.

“One of the most incredible things that my experience in Nepal has given me is confidence in myself as a teacher,” she says. “For a long time it has been difficult for me to really see myself in that role, because my academic path into education has been an unexpected and atypical one. Initially, this feeling was debilitating when working at Orchid Garden, because the cultural differences and language barrier meant that most of the skills I tend to fall back on were dashed. However, the beautiful unpredictability of Orchid Garden allowed me to summon my courage and take a few risks, allowing me to see that I am capable of success in a difficult classroom environment.”

Gapter, a senior in elementary education with a minor in early childhood, worked with a classroom of 3-year-olds. She says the experience confirmed that “this is what I want to do for my career.

“I love working with kids, and this trip made me so much more aware of this. Because of this experience, I realized how lucky we have it here in the U.S. and that we take so many things for granted,” she says. “Throughout my education, I have been taught that there are better ways of teaching than others, but during this experience I learned that you can find positives and negatives for each way of teaching, and that there isn’t one right way to go about it.”

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.”

Also on the trip from Laramie were UW graduate anthropology student Myles Bitner, who worked on a pilot study at one of the preschools; and Laramie occupational therapist Colleen Weber, who volunteered at a preschool for children with disabilities.

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