Teaching in different corners of the world

How would you like to live in an apartment with a picturesque view while learning about a foreign culture and preparing for your career?

Such was the experience of Erin McCarthy, senior elementary education and sociology major, when she did the eight weeks of her student teaching on the island of Mallorca, Spain as part of the Global Student Teaching (GST) program at the College.

“The goal of our program is to give the education majors a great opportunity to experience the culture, especially the educational culture, in other countries,” Xinlan Li, graduate assistant for the Office of Summer and Undergraduate Global Programs, said.

This year, from January to March, 18 students went to schools in Ireland, Spain, Italy, Thailand, South Africa, Bolivia, the Gambia, Croatia and Costa Rica.

Students apply for GST one semester before departure, Li said. Qualified candidates have a GPA of at least 2.75 and submit their resume, GST rationale and a biography sketch to show why they are qualified and how the experience will benefit them. Then they must pass interviews and wait for the decision from the host schools.

Students submit their top three destination choices but are placed by the GST program. Mallorca was McCarthy’s first choice, so she said she was “really excited” when she was chosen to go there.

McCarthy and two other education majors from the College roomed together in an apartment on the Mediterranean Sea.

“It was beautiful,” McCarthy said of her living quarters, where she said she bonded with the other students. “It brings you close to each other,” she said.

The students were given a crash course in the culture of Mallorca the week they arrived, when they witnessed a weeklong celebration for the patron saint of the island. It was a huge celebration with bonfires and concerts that McCarthy said she compared to the Fourth of July in America.

“It was a really good introduction to the culture,” she said.

McCarthy taught in a British private school that educates Spanish students. The school followed a British curriculum and the students spoke English in the classroom, so there was not a language barrier between McCarthy and the students.

Though McCarthy had taken a year-and-a-half of Spanish at the College, she found the dialect on the island to very different. Fortunately, since Mallorca is a tourist attraction during the summer, many people speak English. This, coupled with her basic familiarity with Spanish, prevented McCarthy from having trouble communicating outside the school.

Mallorca is a reasonably small island, as it only takes two-and-a-half hours to drive across it, so McCarthy and her roommates rented a car and explored it. Still, she didn’t get to see and do everything Mallorca has to offer.

“There’s so much to do there,” she said. “There are so many beautiful places right on the island.”

McCarthy also wanted to experience the mainland culture, so she and her friends took a weekend trip to Barcelona. She said she enjoyed the trip but felt rushed because they only had the weekend.

McCarthy said the British curriculum at the school in which she taught was very different from an American program. She taught a kindergarten class but said the students follow what she considers the equivalent of a second-grade American curriculum.

Returning to Grant Elementary School in Trenton for the second eight weeks of her student teaching requirement has been an adjustment, McCarthy said.

She said there is less structure and support from the staff in the Trenton Schools than in Mallorca.

McCarthy was impressed at how receptive the staff in Mallorca was to the students from abroad, opening their school and homes to them.

The one gripe McCarthy said she had with the program was having her student teaching broken up into two chunks, though inconvenience is not enough to give them regrets.

For Spring 2006, the six-year-old program will offer two new schools in Italy – one in Rome and the other in Genoa – as student teaching options.

The program is also growing in participants. For Spring 2006, 39 students have passed the interview stage, which more than double last year’s number, Li said.

At a recent information session, McCarthy and her roommates from Mallorca were told not many people had interest in Mallorca so they should convince others to consider it. McCarthy was floored someone would need to be talked into it.

She said she could have talked for five hours about her experience. When she shows her pictures, people cannot believe she lived at such a beautiful location, she said.