For education majors, the biggest goal is to help mold the tiny minds of our future. At Salisbury University, students are given the opportunity to take that goal abroad, specifically to Hamilton, New Zealand.
The program is specifically designed for early childhood and elementary education majors. A lot of students know about the experience before they even get accepted into the program. Students at SU’s Seidel School of Education are eligible to apply for the program after two years studying at the university.
The application process consists of an essay, an evaluation of the students’ grades, followed by an interview and the recommendation of education professors.
Professor of education at SU Claudia Burgess recommends the study to all of her students in the elementary and early education track, so much so that she gives a presentation on the trip once a semester to encourage applicants.
Burgess highlighted that the application process consists of so many steps due to the importance that the student that is chosen will be representing not only SU, but also the state of Maryland and the U.S. as a whole.
“We really want people who have high quality work, who show initiative, who have a passion for education,” Burgess said. “And students who really believe that this experience of interning in New Zealand will positively impact them in their future endeavors as a teacher.”
Burgess emphasized that the university seeks out students who see the opportunity as a way of enhancing their education over just viewing it as a trip or vacation.
In delving into the reasons why she encourages her students to teach abroad in this foreign environment, Burgess reminisced on her own studies abroad and how those experiences have influenced and molded her as an educator.
“I came from a background myself where as a young person, I didn’t travel really,” Burgess said. “But at the age of 15, I represented my city in Japan as a foreign exchange student, and then I was a student exchange student for a year in Iceland, and it really changed my perspective of my own community; it changed my perspective of the world.”
Burgess feels that her own time abroad has brought her benefits in her teaching career because it has made her more globally aware and open-minded toward different cultures.
“And I really want that for my students,” Burgess said. “Today, we’re dealing with more and more diverse populations in classrooms, and it helps for them I think to see the world and to see differences in cultures so that they understand that better as a teacher.”
As great an opportunity the study is, with any big change comes fears, and the introduction of an entire new culture and place can be a scary thought.
When presented with Burgess’ presentation as a senior in high school, now recent SU graduate Sydney Alexander told her mom the she would never be taking that trip around the world to teach.
But come three years later, Alexander felt inspired and moved by the idea, and with the encouragement of Burgess and her parents, Alexander packed her bags and spent her final semester teaching in the homeland of scenic views, and she is so grateful she took that leap.
“I wanted to go mainly because it was kind of scary and it was a challenge, and I really wanted to push myself through that right before I graduated to make sure I knew I was ready for the real world,” Alexander said. “And I was so proud that I did.”
After her trip teaching abroad, Alexander emphasized that her experience in New Zealand is one that she will carry with her throughout her lifetime.
“College courses, and reading, and writing papers and sitting in a classroom ... that can only really teach you so much,” Alexander said. “Immersing yourself into a completely different culture and an education system that you’re unexperienced in taught me more than I had ever thought was possible.”
Alexander highlighted that the school system in New Zealand held many differences than that of the system we have in America, and a lot of what she observed there she plans to bring into her own classroom one day.
Pointing out things ranging from accents, to curriculum, philosophies and no school buses, Alexander was often learning more than she was teaching.
“They are very student-centered; the students are being taught based on what they are interested in,” Alexander said. “That’s one thing I saw that was huge over in New Zealand that I will bring to my future classroom.”
Whether she was teaching the students or experiencing the new country, Alexander was being moved emotionally and mentally.
With only two months spent at the school, Alexander dreading leaving, and so did her students. On her last day teaching, Alexander’s class showered her in cards, friendship bracelets and a handmade quilt of memories.
“Just seeing the effort and the impact that I had on these students, because I was only there for two months and I was like, what could I really do in that short amount of time, I’m just some American girl coming in,” Alexander said.
“And that really proved to me that I did something, I touched these kids. And that was my favorite part of being a teacher, and I’m sure that that’s every teacher’s favorite part of the job when you realize you made an impact on these kids.”
Students who are interested in taking that leap and applying for the internship abroad should seek out applications this February.
For those students in the Seidel School who are hesitant to take that chance and study around the world, Alexander emphasized that they should push themselves to do it, because she’s so glad that she did.
“I hope even just one education major reads this and is like, ‘Okay, this is what I needed, I’m going,’ because I just want to shake all of them and say push yourself, do this,” Alexander said. “You’ve got to do it because you learn so much while you’re over there.”
For more information on the study, contact Burgess or stop by the Janet Dudley-Eshbach Center for International Education at 1106 Camden Ave.
By CAROLINE STREETT
Gull Life editor
Featured photos from Sydney Alexander Images.