A dozen University of Wyoming students traveled to Nepal this summer but not as sightseeing tourists or daring mountain climbers — they went to teach.
Four Nepali schools hosted the early education students for three weeks, allowing them to see how other cultures approach teaching and how a UW education could fit in. Sage Weber of Laramie was placed in Orchid Garden, a school for the children living in poverty.
“I anticipated it’d be difficult just seeing that on a daily basis, but it was also amazing,” she said. “I didn’t expect the resilience and strength of the human spirit.”
UW early childhood professors Nikki Baldwin and Samara Madrid organized the trip and accompanied the students abroad. It is their second trip to Nepal with students.
“The purpose of this internship is for students to experience something way outside their world,” Baldwin said.
“The first time, in 2014, we had six students. There wasn’t as much interest. This year, we had to cap it at 12.”
The program is three weeks long to allow more students the opportunity to go, even if they need to work or have jobs. However, those few weeks are very intensive.
“They’re working more than 40 hours a week for prep time and in the classroom,” Baldwin said.
The short and intense program limits the amount of time students can do the traditional traveling and sightseeing accompanying other study abroad programs. However, the students’ ties to the people is much stronger than a tour guide can provide, Baldwin said.
“A lot of that experience comes from relationships with teachers and students,” she said. “When you get to know the people, you become family to them.”
Nepal is the perfect place for such a trip, Baldwin explained. Tourism from Western outdoorsmen and hikers drives a large part of Nepal’s economy, and each of the four schools are taught in English.
The schools are diverse and provide a wide perspective for students. One school is for high-level government officials and other similar international students. Another is for upper middle class students. Two UW students were sent to a school for disabled children and two, including Weber, were sent to Orchid Garden.
“I think every school had its challenges, but the poverty element was pretty unique — not necessarily in a negative way,” Weber said. “It was a difficult challenge just to see the students, but they were just as driven as any other students.”
Gabrielle Maas was also at Orchid Garden. Every school had to work with a language barrier, because families at home spoke Nepali, but other problems also stemmed from the lower-income students.
“There wasn’t a ton of parent involvement,” Maas said. “The kids were very affectionate and looking forward to school because it is more stable than their home life. That was very different.”
Weber gave a brief overview of a standard day during her time in Nepal.
“They had a morning assembly with calisthenics and would sing their national anthem,” she said. “It was great seeing this huge group out in the yard. Then we were brought up to sing songs and lead the assembly — I was kind of nervous for the first few days. After that, we’d just go to our classroom and work with kids.
“They have different methods of teaching,” Weber continued. “They rely a lot on direct instruction and worksheets. I tried to give them more creative or fun ways to teach a concept.”
Learning these different styles and methods was a main reason for the trip, Baldwin said.
“They don’t really recognize how much culture is embedded in teaching,” she said. “But when you’re taken out and placed in a different school and classroom, you suddenly see these differences. They learn other ways of doing things and question assumptions and understand themselves better.”