After spending eight weeks teaching from the inside of a Costa Rican elementary school, Ashley Huffman feels like she will bring a broad perspective and confidence into a U.S. classroom.
"I have now been able to see how the school systems work in two countries, realizing that they both have strengths and weaknesses," said the 23-year-old December graduate of the University of Iowa's College of Education. "I feel like I am able to walk away from this experience more confident in my teaching abilities and feel like I will be successful by combining the best of both worlds into my classroom."
The Storm Lake native was one of six UI students who participated in a program called Overseas Practicum for Practice Teachers, which is through the Foundation for International Education. She taught English, math in English, science and computers in a school called Escuela Colina Azul.
Since the program started in 1974, UI has sent between five and 10 students each semester for an eight-week placement. Since 1997, when UI began tracking numbers, 193 UI students have taught in 19 different countries, such as Australia, Costa Rica, Ireland and New Zealand.
Students such as Huffman report professional benefits and personal benefits in exploring a different country and culture.
UI is one of only a handful of colleges that participate.
Interested students must participate in their last semester, but first they need a 3.2 grade-point-average, full-faculty approval and successful completion of an eight-week teaching placement within the U.S. The students still pay regular tuition, plus travel costs.
"The candidates return to the U.S. with a new understanding of education in another country, and interestingly enough, experiencing teaching in another country seems to foster a greater awareness of our own system," said Nancy Langguth, a student field experiences coordinator in the College of Education.
The unique part of the experience, Langguth said, is that the students are in local schools teaching local curriculums to local children. Students who teach in that setting get a new perspective on lesson planning, curriculum development, assessment and working with special needs students, among other areas.
"The idea is not to make comparisons, just to observe differences," Langguth said. "Don't cast judgment; bring perspective back."
Heidi Fehring, 23, is another December graduate who participated in the program. She taught at Mairangi Bay School in Mairangi Bay, New Zealand. She said there were many similarities and a few differences.
"One major difference was that the elementary school teachers there taught all the 'specials' like art, P.E. and library. In the schools that I have observed in the U.S., there are special teachers for these subjects. In addition, there seemed to be more of a focus on physical activity in New Zealand," she said.
Now back in the states, Fehring is looking to substitute teach in Lincoln, Neb., before seeking a permanent position somewhere in the United States.
"I think the experience will be beneficial in the long run because immersing myself in another country showed me multiple perspectives, gave me insight to another culture as well as my own, and allowed me yet another opportunity to learn from a great teacher," she said.