For the first time, a group of Buffalo State teacher candidates traveled to the Dominican Republic to take part in hands-on teaching in 3 Mariposas Montessori School.
For the 13 students—all majoring in either elementary education and reading or exceptional education—the experience was illuminating. In the blogs they wrote over the course of the two-week trip, it’s clear that they gained many new perspectives on teaching. Several noted that the experience of being unable to speak the language around them gave them new insight into the challenges faced by students who are not native English speakers.
"It was life-changing," said Leah White. "I expected to see small homes, but I didn’t think houses would be the size of a small bedroom here." White is majoring in early childhood and elementary education.
Other students reported their own impressions. In response to visiting a public school, one student wrote, "…What can I do to help? What can I do to be a voice for change? …Maybe right now I can focus on the community around me in Buffalo and pour into that somehow."
Another student wrote, "I grew a lot through this trip and it made me a stronger teacher and woman as a whole. Although those beautiful children have so much less than we do at home, they are still children, and their minds are just the same. They are eager and excited about their learning and they are a constant reminder of why I am a teacher."
While this was the first time that Buffalo State students traveled to the Dominican Republic, the School of Education offers a number of international experiences to students who plan to become teachers. "Today's classroom reflects today's world, and that world is a small place," said Wendy Paterson, dean of the School of Education. "We want our students to have the opportunity to experience another culture first-hand."
In the past, students have traveled to Chile with Pixita del Prado, associate professor of elementary education and reading. The connection was made when del Prado traveled to the Universidad Mayor in Chile as a Fulbright scholar; another trip is planned for June 2014. Hibajene Shandomo, associate professor of elementary education and reading, has led students to Lusaka, Zambia.
“We are also planning a trip to Germany in July,” said Tamara Horstman-Riphahn, executive assistant to the dean.
In addition to classroom experiences, students from Buffalo State may take language courses overseas and spend time in the homes of host families. "A key piece is coming together as a group before we travel," said Horstman-Riphahn. "While abroad, we make time to explore the communities and engage in excursions to learn about local culture and daily life. It was wonderful to watch the students tackle their personal assumptions and boundaries."
In the Dominican Republic, students toured a cocoa plantation and practiced their much-improved Spanish at shops in the town of Cabarete. In Germany, students will live with host families and observe different school settings.
Although White’s time in the Dominican Republic introduced her to a very different culture, she did notice one an important similarity. “Playing peek-a-boo with a two-year-old,” she said, “I realized that kids are kids everywhere.”