Studying abroad sends teachers across pond to edges of world

Joseph A. Stanonik

As a student teacher in Cape Town, South Africa, Adam Harrington didn’t expect to defend the United States his first day — or even to be noticed.

But as an American, Harrington is out of the ordinary for the students in his integrated science classes.

“No one was really hostile, and I certainly didn’t feel threatened, but some of the questions were rather pointed,” the integrated science education major said, describing his first day of student teaching as “nerve-wracking.”

Like several of his colleagues from the College of Education, Harrington is learning on-the-job through student training.

The only difference is his student teaching experience is half way around the world in South Africa. He teaches integrated science at St. Joseph’s Marist College in Cape Town, South Africa.

Culture shock is just one of the several things student teachers in other countries experience when they are without a support network of friends, family and professors. Ken Cushner, executive director of International Affairs, said this is perfectly natural.

“Every five or so years we have to bring someone back,” Cushner said. “But bad experiences are very rare.”

Julie Foat, an education major teaching in Auckland, New Zealand, had similar anxiety. On her first day meeting the faculty and the administration, Foat said she began to feel “weird” after morning tea and decided to go back to her Auckland “home.”

Foat said she overcame her fears after sitting down, focusing on the positives and taking a nap. When she woke up, she felt 10 times better.

“Really it has been wonderful,” Foat said. “All the staff and students have been lovely, and I could not be happier about the people I’ve had the opportunity to work with. I wouldn’t trade any troubles I’ve had to stay in Ohio not expanding my experience.”

Harrington recommended students traveling aboard should pick the “most far-out” country they know of so they can maximize their learning experience.

“Of course you should learn as much about the country and the culture you want to visit is important, but I also think that the fewer expectations you have for your experience the better,” he said.

Will Harper, integrated social studies major teaching in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, agrees. Harper said he tried to learn as much as possible about South Africa’s history before his trip.

“I think it is more about coming into an experience with an open mind and being flexible, then being prepared,” Harper said.

Cushner helped bring the Consortium for Overseas Student Teaching to Kent State in the early ’90s. He said the positives of teaching abroad definitely outweigh the negatives.

COST, formed in 1972, gives student teachers from different universities across the United States the opportunity to teach abroad.

According to COST, students in English-speaking countries are placed in public schools to become acquainted with local culture.

When investigating the possibility of teaching abroad, COST asks student teachers to be open-minded, outgoing, confident and comfortable in new situations, reflective and be able to cope with culture shock on top of classroom pressures.

Students are prepared for their teaching experience in a four-class program the semester before their trip. Student teaching coordinator Gretchen Espinetti said these classes look at the host country and its education institutions, cultural issues students may experience and how to adapt.

It is this contrast in cultures that will remain with student teachers, Cushner said. He said students who teach abroad are more likely to feel affected by international events.

Harrington agrees, saying his time abroad has given him a greater perspective on life in other parts of the globe.

Harrington encouraged students to spend time abroad, if only to develop perspective on how life is different outside America.

“Do it,” said Harrington. “Even if you miss the next season of ‘Survivor.’ Teaching abroad will teach you more about yourself and where you come from than any other experience I can think of.”

Contact College of Education reporter Joseph A. Stanonik at [email protected].