Last modified: Wednesday, January 22, 2003
Future teachers at IU gain skills, confidence through teaching overseas
Every year between 60 and 90 Indiana University students go overseas for student teaching. They return with changed views of themselves, their career and their country.
"This is a life-changing experience for most students, many of whom are from small communities in Indiana," said Laura Stachowski, director of cultural immersion projects for the IU School of Education. "For aspiring teachers, it is especially important to step outside their comfort zone and see how other people live and educate their children. There are many similarities to America, but also many differences."
Stachowski speaks from experience. She journeyed to England for her student teaching in 1979 and became hooked on the overseas experience. She joined the cultural project staff in 1981 and became director eight years ago. The Web site for the overseas program is http://www.indiana.edu/~cultural/index.html.
The IU School of Education program, one of the oldest and largest in the country, was honored in 2001 with a national award. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education presented IU with the Best Practice Award for Global and International Teacher Education. IU was also among six colleges nationwide selected for a report on campus internationalization for the U.S. State Department.
The IU program started in the 1970s with placements in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, England, Wales and Scotland. India was added in 1996, Taiwan in 1997 and Kenya and Costa Rica last year. All locations need approval from the IU Overseas Study Advisory Council before they are selected. The placements are coordinated through the Foundation for International Education in Wisconsin.
Lindsey Danisch of the Chicago area said her teaching in Kenya last summer was "the most powerful experience I've ever had. It has forever changed my life and provided me with a realistic view of global education. I know I can overcome hardships and teach with a lack of many materials like walls, books, pencils, shoes and paper.Children are the same everywhere. All they want is information about themselves and their surroundings."
The students usually participate during their senior year in an eight-week teaching experience at the elementary or high school level. "The students have at least 10 weeks of student teaching before they leave, and in many cases they are preparing for this experience up to 18 months before they depart," Stachowski said. Courses are required in ethnic and cultural studies.
"We think they return as better teachers," Stachowski said, "because they have a broader sense of culture and how that plays out in the classroom setting. They also have a better sense of world events and have experienced tremendous personal growth."
Kirstin Wetterholt of Bloomington taught in Auckland, New Zealand, and she has accepted an offer to return there to teach full-time. "In New Zealand I learned to critically analyze my own thinking and realize that my way is not the only effective way to do things," she said. "It makes you more flexible, confident and diverse. It was heartbreaking when my student teaching concluded because where I taught was the most special school in the world. I always dreamed of working overseas, and to my surprise and joy it is now going to happen," she said.
School of Education Dean Gerardo Gonzalez described the cultural project as "one of the most exciting international opportunities we offer our undergraduates. Returning students tell me what an enriching experience it is to teach children in other cultures and how this experience helps them improve their teaching when they return home."
Stachowski anticipated a decline in overseas interest after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, but the opposite occurred. "We were sending about 60 students overseas, and this increased to an all-time high of 85 after Sept. 11, perhaps because students felt an increased need to contribute to world understanding," she said.
Costs for overseas teaching vary with the location but can significantly exceed expenses for an equivalent time at IU because of airfare, she said, noting that financial aid programs and scholarships help many students participate. "The students who go overseas say it is worth the cost," Stachowski concluded.
For more information on the overseas program, contact Stachowski at 812-856-8507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.