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UW Early Childhood Students Gain Insights, Experience in Nepal

July 6, 2016
group of people posing between huge ancient carved stone animals
UW early childhood education students pose for a photo in Kathmandu, Nepal, during their three-week internship experience earlier this summer. The students were placed in four schools serving children and families from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds in Nepal. (UW Photo)

Twelve students in the University of Wyoming’s early childhood education program 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 Katrina Swanson, of Casper, 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.”

“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 Kelsy Wooldridge, of Gillette, 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.

woman standing on park bench blowing bubbles for small children

UW student Hayley Pedersen, of Fort Collins, Colo., enjoys an activity with kindergarten-age students at a preschool in Nepal. (UW Photo)

“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.

Aspen Cecrle and Emma Estep, of Lander, worked at MotherCare International Preschool.

“The children I had the opportunity to work with were incredible, and I am very excited to share my experience in Nepal with my future students,” Cecrle says. “My personal gains from this experience include a better understanding of who I am and the values I hold as a teacher.”

“The internship in Nepal allowed me to step back from my own world and see early childhood education from a different perspective,” Estep says. “I was able to diversify my own methods, allowing me to integrate their ideas into my own classroom.”

Abbey Kercher, of Cheyenne, who has completed her early childhood special education degree, worked at Kathmandu’s Special Education Rehabilitation Center (SERC), the only one serving special-needs children in the country of nearly 30 million people. She spent time in multiple classrooms, sharing ways to keep track of goals and deal with challenging behaviors.

“Through this experience, my life has been touched in many ways,” she says. “The people of Nepal can literally make anything that you can ever imagine out of things we throw away. The woman who started SERC has the biggest heart and the grandest vision for the children she works with and serves. She has shown me that will and determination can make a huge difference in the lives of others. Working with someone so inspiring has helped me to see that the sky is the limit, and that with determination and hard work anything is possible.”

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.”

Other students who completed the internship were Hayley Pedersen, of Fort Collins, Colo.; Kirsti Gapter, Ashley Cometto and Sage Weber, of Laramie; and Jasmine Bustillo, Gabrielle Maas and Justine Johnson, of Cheyenne.

Also on the trip 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 the SERC school for children with disabilities.

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