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Student finds international study fosters multicultural foundation 

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Education major recounts experience teaching abroad

Elizabeth McDonnell was often subjected to freezing weather when waking at the crack of dawn to catch an hour-long bus ride to school as a student teacher. But despite the cold, she was thankful for the opportunity to learn abroad.

“None of that mattered because I was blessed to be in England teaching 31 of the coolest kids in the world,” McDonnell said.

McDonnell, 24, completed her student teaching requirement in Sheffield, England as part of the UNLV International Student Teaching Program during the spring of 2012. For 12 weeks she taught first grade at Acres Hills Primary School in the completion of her bachelor’s degree in education.

McDonnell said participating in the program that allowed her to teach abroad was the best decision she has ever made. She and Emilie-Ariel Letourneau, 22, were the only two UNLV students to complete their student teaching requirement abroad last spring.

Both said they were excited to participate in the program.

“All the people you meet and the connections you make along the way are amazing,” Letourneau said.

For McDonnell, the choice to student teach abroad enabled her discover her passion for multicultural education, as it forced her out of Las Vegas.

“I think American schools lack such education which is unfortunate for how multicultural our classrooms are,” she said.

McDonnell said she wants to learn about education in as many cultures as she can so she may be able to take all that she knows and teach multiculturally in the U.S.

“That would enable me to reach more of my students and teach to more cultures,” she said. “That’s the dream.”

McDonnell’s experience abroad has taught her many things that have helped her to become a better teacher, something she said she could not have gotten from a textbook alone.

“My resource bank as a teacher significantly increased,” she said.

According to the UNLV College of Education website, teacher education institutions across the U.S. are recognizing a need for greater international awareness and understanding among teachers. The university has responded to this need by offering the option for students to complete their student teaching requirement in an international setting.

William Speer, interim dean at the UNLV College of Education, is director of the International Student Teaching Program.

“A valuable teacher is an individual that seeks out and welcomes challenges of all kinds — a successful teacher is never satisfied with status quo but always wants more and better learning,” Speer said. “International experiences aren’t necessary for this, but they certainly are sufficient to nurture it.”

Students interested in student teaching abroad must apply a year an advance and be interviewed by the International Student Teaching Committee. The committee considers factors such as GPA, recommendations, the application and interview performance in reviewing candidates.

“It is not for everyone,” Speer said. “It is for those that are confident, that have demonstrated competence that are resourceful, that are personable and that are responsible.”

Speer believes students teaching abroad requires an independent and adventurous spirit.

McDonnell seems to have both qualities.

After completing her semester in England and traveling to Europe, she came back to the U.S. for three weeks, eventually taking a teaching job in China. She currently teaches kindergarten in Changsha within the Hunan Province and plans to do so until August of next year.

“Right now I’m just happy being directly involved with other cultures and learning as much as I can through experience,” McDonnell said.

Next, McDonnell plans to travel to South East Asia for three months. After that, she intends on returning to the U.S. for six months to save money for her next international teaching experience. She is considering teaching in Central or South America.

“My current situation is such a blessing that I don’t really feel the need to look too far ahead,” McDonnell said. “But my future will consist of new countries and little kids. That’s all I can guarantee.”

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