Lauren (Winterholler) Carlisle of Lovell is one of six University of Wyoming early childhood education students who say they will be better teachers as a result of experiences they gained during a three-week visit to Nepal this summer.
The students completed the capstone experience for their early childhood education endorsement by teaching as interns in early childhood classrooms in Kathmandu. It was the first international early childhood experience ever offered through the UW College of Education.
“While spending every day teaching in Nepali classrooms, I was reminded of the joy I feel from simply learning with and teaching children,” said Carlisle, who will begin her career as a first-grade teacher at Slade Elementary School in Laramie this fall. “I was reminded why it is I spent four years in college training to become an educator.”
The trip was arranged by early childhood faculty members Samara Madrid and Nikki Baldwin, who accompanied the students as supervisors after visiting Nepal in the summer of 2013. The two built upon the College of Education’s existing relationship with Kathmandu University in mathematics education.
The UW students worked full time in two Kathmandu schools — Bridgewater International School and the Montessori Children’s House — teaching children from 1 to 7 years old. In addition to assisting the teachers at the schools, they took over and led classroom activities, requiring them to learn and understand the schools’ curriculum and assessment practices.
“Our purpose was to instill in our students an understanding of schools as a medium that communicates culture in really powerful ways,” Baldwin said. “When we’re outside our culture, it sort of strips down teaching experiences and causes us to look at things through a different lens.
“Teaching is a culturally embedded practice. So, when we come back to Wyoming, we’re a lot more able to recognize all the culturally embedded practices in our own classrooms. By challenging our assumptions, we can look at our practices a little differently.”
Baldwin said the students performed so well that several were asked to return to Nepal and even were offered jobs as teachers and teaching trainers.
“It was a really big success,” she said. “It demonstrated the strength of our early childhood training in the College of Education.”
Seeing a different approach to teaching had an impact on the students. For example, Carlisle noted that each Nepali classroom had two teachers, instead of the one typical of U.S. classrooms.
“I learned that it’s not important to determine which way is better or worse, but rather value each irrespective of the other,” she said. “Ultimately, I learned and am still practicing to treat things differently, and not comparatively.”
Carlisle said her most memorable experience came on a trip into the countryside outside Kathmandu, when the students noticed people planting rice together as families and were intrigued by the activity. At the invitation of their tour guide, the students spontaneously took off their shoes, rolled up their pants and joined in the rice planting.
“They explained in Nepali and showed us how to plant the rice, and then motioned for us to get to work. I was amazed at how kind these people were — accepting and genuine,” Carlisle said. “Just thinking about the experience makes my heart want to go back to those sweet people.”
Baldwin said she and Madrid hope to make the trip to Nepal for early childhood education students a regular opportunity. This year’s successful trip sets the stage for expansion, as connections were made with additional schools as potential placement sites and with a second university, Tribuvan University.
The students who completed the inaugural trip heartily recommend that others take part in future visits to Nepal.
“If you’re up for adventures and you’re open to experiencing new culture and being immersed in a different world, then please go to Nepal,” Carlisle said. “The country is rich in culture, and I guarantee that you’ll have the chance to do things you never knew were possible.”