Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

Through the Global Gateway: Transforming Student Teachers in Overseas Schools and Communities

Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

Through the Global Gateway: Transforming Student Teachers in Overseas Schools and Communities

Article excerpt

"I cannot believe how many lesson plans can correlate with teaching my students about the world and to truly appreciate cultural differences." (Samantha, now teaching Grade 3)

"This program has been greatly beneficial to my life. It helped ease the hard transition from college to post-grad life. It has given me the confidence to try new experiences." (Allison, now teaching math)

"Being part of that experience helped me to be more flexible and open in my teaching methods, which has been tremendously beneficial. Since my students spoke very little English, it made me become more creative as a teacher, and I now use those activities with my kids!" (Mary, now teaching kindergarten)

Prior to student teaching overseas, it is unlikely that Samantha, Allison, or Mary would have anticipated just how significantly the time they would spend in Australia, Kenya, and Italy, respectively, would impact their professional and personal lives a year later. From the intentional selection of curriculum content and instructional strategies, to the confidence to tackle new challenges in school and community settings, to a deeper appreciation for relationship-building across intercultural contexts, these three first-year teachers discovered that their overseas experiences, although completed months prior, continued to influence and shape their thoughts and actions in substantive, transformative ways. Their reflections echo the voices of 72 program graduates discussed in this article and mirror an increasing body ofliterature on the outcomes of international field experiences.

However, mere placement abroad is not enough to yield the kind of experiential learning that transforms student teachers' lives. Instead, structured requirements, coupled with structured reflections, must be built in, necessitating that student teachers step beyond their host schools to participate in the surrounding community, interact with diverse community members, engage in service learning, and explore below the surface of the cultural iceberg to understand the values, beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions that shape and define others' world views (Brown 8C Kysilka, 2002).

Setting the Stage for Meaningful International Field Experience

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education introduced its inaugural international strategy, outlining the necessity of an international focus in classrooms and communities: "It is essential that we are all able to communicate and work with neighbors, coworkers, and friends with different cultural traditions and perspectives. Such interpersonal skills and appreciation of diverse viewpoints will facilitate civil discourse and a cohesive society" (p. 3). This point of view aligned with the U.S. Department of State's initiative to increase the number of college and university students who study abroad, calling it "a national imperative" for "our country's young people ... to become familiar with international perspectives, learn other languages... and feel at home in a fast-changing world" (Manley, 2014, p. 30). However, Vande Berg, Paige, and Lou (2012) warned that increasing the number of students who engage in traditional study-abroad experiences is not a guarantee that "most students are automatically gaining the sorts of knowledge, perspectives, and skills that are important for living and working in a global society, merely through being exposed to the new and different in another country" (p. 5). These authors cited critics who questioned whether "current study abroad practice offers experiences that differ from taking vacations to other countries and, if so, in what ways" (p. 5).

Education majors, because of the rigidity of their teacher-education program coursework, have been less able to take advantage of traditional study-abroad opportunities than their counterparts in, for example, the social sciences and business or management. Being away for a semester would mean stepping out of the sequence of methods courses and early field experiences, with no guarantee space in a later "block" would exist upon their return. …

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