Taking on a dual role as student and teacher, 14 HWS students have immersed themselves in the culture and education system of Auckland, New Zealand this semester. The study abroad program gives HWS students who are passionate about education the opportunity to explore the complex local culture and history through coursework and excursions while also serving as student teachers at six local schools.
“The goal of this program is to help students better understand the nature of education, curriculum, schools and schooling in New Zealand compared to the United States and other countries,” says Professor of Education Jamie MaKinster, who’s leading the trip. “Ultimately, participating students are able to construct an understanding of the inherent opportunities and challenges within culturally responsive teaching, but most importantly, they learn how to acknowledge, celebrate and build upon the racial and ethnic backgrounds of their current and future school students, both individually and collectively.”
Designed for students in the Colleges’ Teacher Education Program, nearly every aspect of the study abroad experience helps students build their teaching skills by broadening their cultural perspectives and fostering a greater sense of cultural acceptance in the classroom. Each student is placed in a local classroom two days a week, assisting a teacher and working with local children. HWS students begin by working with individual students and small groups and then transition to leading short activities, eventually teaching entire lessons.
“This exposure and experience has already been greatly beneficial,” says Allie Flaherty ’17, a sociology major and education minor, whose classroom includes students from 13 different ethnicities. “Through my teaching experience, I feel that I’m learning a lot more about culture. There are many similarities to our education system, but also some striking differences. The experience has given me the ability to look at everything back home from a new perspective.”
Throughout the experience, students are encouraged to take a comparative approach to critically examine the differences between the American education system with that of New Zealand and other countries. In addition, students take a course, “Comparative International Education: New Zealand and the United States,” taught by MaKinster. The class examines the social, political, economic, cultural and ethical considerations that shape education policies and practices.
Emily Nason ’17, a public policy major and education minor, enjoys learning firsthand how teachers incorporate multiple cultures and ethnicities in the classroom and the “many skills of cultural inclusivity” that she says will aid her career. Lucie Mendelson ’17, a sociology major and double minor in Spanish and education, agrees, saying that she’s “learning a new philosophy of teaching.”
Many of the HWS students in New Zealand are working to get certified in special education, which MaKinster says gives them an “important perspective” regarding the opportunities and challenges faced by students with disabilities in other cultures as well.
“While some of them have settings in which students are well supported, others have witnessed the ways in which some teachers struggle to support certain students with specific learning disabilities,” MaKinster says.
In collaboration with the University of Auckland, students are enhancing their cultural understanding by taking two required courses taught by professors at the University. “Mapping the Social Reality of New Zealand” provides a sociological approach which focuses on contemporary issues ranging from environmental concerns to women’s rights and national identity; while “Issues in Maori Society” offers an ethnographic lens to examine the culture of the indigenous Maori.
“My favorite part of the trip has been living with a family,” Nason says. “I’ve gotten such a unique perspective on life by living with New Zealanders. It seems like all of New Zealand is my classroom because everywhere I turn there is something new and interesting to discover.”
Extending the cultural experience beyond the classroom, MaKinster says students are given hands-on opportunities to explore and engage with the geography, history, environment and diverse societies through several excursions. So far, the group has traveled to Rangitoto Island, where they hiked the largest volcano in the Auckland volcanic field with a local geologist; to Otara Market, a farmers’ market in South Auckland where vendors from a variety of cultures sell local goods; and to Bay of Islands, where students participated in traditional Maori experiences that involved learning songs, games, flax weaving, sleeping in a marae – a traditional Maori meeting house – and visiting the Waitangi Treaty grounds.
The semester will conclude with an 11-day trip to the South Island, where students will explore areas of “historical, cultural, geological and environmental significance,” says MaKinster. The trip includes visits to New Zealand’s national museum, Parliament buildings and national parks, as well as a hike on an active glacier and to Christchurch, the site of the 2010 earthquake.
“Overall, it is an enormously rich context for our students to develop their abilities as future teachers and educators,” says MaKinster.