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Published August 01, 2018
Nine University of Wyoming elementary education majors -- also earning an early childhood education birth through 8 years of age endorsement -- gained valuable experience in the field serving alongside educators at preschools in Nepal this summer.
The students say the international internship experience will improve teaching abilities in their future classrooms and also help them to better relate to those with different life experiences.
UW elementary education majors participating in the trip were: Kayleigh Barrett and Samantha Good, both from Casper; Chancey Bauer, from Thermopolis; Ty Crumm, of Cheyenne; Bradley Elaison and Rebecca Wollman, both from Gillette; Taylor Kaisler, of Savery; and Holbie Oakley and Brook Weibel, both from Burns.
UW School of Teacher Education Associate Lecturer Nikki Baldwin arranged the trip, which has become a tradition every other summer since 2014. The experience was supported, in part, through a UW $5,000 Innovative Course Grant. Students also received scholarship support from the Richard B. and Lynne V. Cheney Study-Abroad Scholarship Fund.
“This trip gives students unique opportunities to practice teaching and increase their level of cultural competence as they engage with children and adults who are different from them in a setting where they are outside of their comfort zone,” Baldwin says.
The students interned in two Kathmandu preschools, Orchid Garden Nepal and MotherCare International Preschool. The UW preservice teachers participated in various tasks that will better prepare them for their own future classrooms. Duties included assisting with and teaching lessons, leading the classroom and assisting teachers with the preparation of the day’s materials.
“My favorite task was reading to the children. I was able to really interact and connect with them through something as simple as a book,” Good says. “I loved asking them questions and learning from their way of understanding things.”
Students also learned and experienced things that will give them a unique perspective in their future classrooms, as well as an enhanced ability to connect with students, especially those on the fringes.
“I’ve gotten to be the outsider in a classroom and the one who doesn’t understand what’s happening or what’s to be expected,” Oakley says. “This alone will help me with perspective-taking and relating, on a very small scale, to families and children who may feel like outsiders in the school system.”
Participants were able to build upon past experiences at UW during their practicums and during student teaching to collaborate with the Nepali teachers. The UW preservice teachers were able to share and discuss curriculum they had previously taught to have a positive impact on the curriculum of their host schools.
Outside of the classroom, the preservice teachers experienced life in the country through the eyes of children by touring a large international school, as well as spending a day at a children’s home.
The future educators even found time in their busy schedules to explore the beautiful country and visited several famous UNESCO world heritage sites such as Pashupatinath, Boudhanath and Swayambhunath, and also Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Baldwin says. The group also spent free time experiencing the local cuisine and shopping.
UW preservice teachers on the tour went through a rigorous application selection process that included faculty recommendations, a written paper and a personal interview. Those selected completed a distance course in preparation of the trip in January and met three times a month leading up to the trip.
Self-reflection is an important aspect to the trip, Baldwin says. This practice can have a profound effect on increasing a participant’s personal growth and cultural competence during an international trip. It also helps to break stereotypes and common misconceptions the UW students may have prior to the trip, Baldwin adds.
To aid in this reflection, participants completed the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) assessment and used their results to set goals in preparation for the trip. After their return, they completed the IDI assessment again to track their processes. Participants also are required to submit a final reflection paper reporting on their experiences and if they accomplished their goals.
“I hope that, as my students begin teaching in their own classrooms, they will continue to engage in the self-reflection practices they used in Nepal,” Baldwin says. “As reflective teachers, they will then be able to continually challenge their assumptions and help diverse children and families thrive.”
The trip provides as much benefit for the students and teachers in Nepal as it does for the future educators from UW, she adds. Nepali teachers appreciate the energy and innovative ideas brought by the UW students, and the connections made continue beyond the trip.
“My hope is always that students will return from Nepal as confident and culturally competent classroom teachers, eager to embrace diverse children and families in classrooms and schools,” Baldwin says.
The trip confirmed to the students that they are following the right path on their journey to becoming educators.
“This experience taught me that I couldn’t have chosen a better profession than education,” Kaisler says. “After returning from Nepal, I am more excited than ever to have my own classroom of amazing students.”
Baldwin says she is grateful to the UW Education Abroad Office for its support of the trip.
“The office is an amazing resource for students and faculty who are seeking international learning opportunities,” she says.