by Danielle Curry, Montclair State University
This past summer, I lived the dream that every young girl has – living in a castle. I studied abroad and lived in a castle located on a vineyard in the small town of Leibnitz, Austria, for a two week summer program hosted by the University of Graz, which is located about twenty minutes south of Austria’s second largest city.
The title of the course was Transformation, Transgressions, and Trust, and these were also the topics discussed in the two-week course for highly motivated students.
Conversations revolved around world issues and how we can transgress, transform, and develop trust in and between Europe and the Americas. Students gathered from all over the world for this academic boot camp, and many of the students spoke about past study abroad experiences and travels. As a preservice educator, I did not have the chance to study abroad between my rigorous teacher education program and summers dedicated to working at the summer camp at my local childcare center, so this study abroad opportunity was one I greatly looked forward to as it would allow me to explore a new country and learn from and with peers of different backgrounds and lived experiences.
This summer school brought students together from various levels and fields of study. While talking about careers, I found a lot of people were also in the education field, and I met teachers that were back in school getting their masters, graduate students that had spent a year teaching English as a second language in foreign countries, and bachelor students that were working towards their teacher’s certificate. One of the most worthwhile parts of the trip was speaking with other preservice educators about their teacher preparation programs and public school systems in other countries.
A twenty-one year old Romanian female student, Diana, discussed students’ lack of interest in education, which leads to violence in her public education system. An example included students physically assaulting his or her teacher. Diana had anxieties about the possibility of experiencing some of these violent situations when she finished her teacher preparation program the following year and obtained a classroom of her own. She explained that the program was predominately about theory and gave her fewer opportunities to practice in a classroom, which only added to her anxiety. In rural areas of Romania where Diana taught, resources were scarce and many families were living in poverty, but Diana was dedicated to helping these students in the public school system rather than teaching in a more affluent community. Diana’s passion is pushing her through college, even though the number of teachers leaving the field is rising due to low pay.
As we all expressed similar concerns and ambitions, it was a small reminder that teaching is truly a profession of the heart.
Maisa, a student and proud advocate for public schools in Brazil, told a similar story about her country. She was living in Sao Paulo, Brazil, teaching students about diverse populations and different struggles happening in their home country. One inspiring story she told was about bringing her students to cities in ruin from disasters and lack of resources so they could see the issues firsthand.
A student from Germany, Chris, told me about his experience teaching in a foreign country. He lived in China and taught Beginner’s English to young children ranging from ages six through eight. Chris spoke about how he felt uneasy teaching the way he was instructed because to teach English he was told to only speak in English and focus on memorization. In China, they value the English language, but Chris didn’t want to discourage the usage of Chinese in the classroom. He wanted to play age appropriate games and incorporate interaction into his classroom, not solely drilling memorization.
Common talking points I found were curriculum standards, teacher salary, preparation programs, low poverty areas, and lack of resources. Speaking with educators from other countries made me realize that although we have cultural differences, many of the issues in education remain the same across the board. However, one factor keeps all of us going – passion. I could hear the happiness in Chris’s voice when he told anecdotes about his students running during their recess time. I could hear determination as Diana told me about her plans to help Romanian students in need. I could see the devotion and excitement in Maisa as she spoke about her many projects with students. Teachers all around the world are shaping the minds of children, our future, every single day through a variety of avenues that are all driven by passion and fortitude. It was inspiring to come together with just a few educators and engage in conversation about how we can help children in our classrooms and people in our societies. As we all expressed similar concerns and ambitions, it was a small reminder that teaching is truly a profession of the heart.