Deborah Rifenbary, associate dean at the UNM College of Education Administration, has set up a one-month exchange program with an elementary school teacher in Austria. The program sends UNM students in the education program to teach students in Austria’s elementary and middle schools.
“I think what this may do for some students is spark their interest and curiosity and opportunities to teach abroad as a certified teacher,” Rifenbary said. “But this is baby steps.”
The program has made it a long-term goal to expand the exchange allowing Austrian teachers to come and be part of the experience here in the state, she said. The program is open to students in the dual license education studies program.
Kristin Alvarado participated in the exchange and said the program focused on learning different educational practices.
“It was so beneficial. You learn so much about yourself, it really opens your mind to the horizon of a whole new world out there,” she said.
The students visited four schools each week, where they gave presentations and taught lessons about U.S. and New Mexican culture to the children.
“It gives you a different experience and you’re able to see different teaching styles,” said Kaitlyn Jaramillo, another participant. “I think here in the U.S., if we set high expectations for our students, then they can achieve more than we think they can. That’s what I would like to take into my classrooms especially.”
The Stars Assistant Program, in its third year, has advocated for students’ confidence through learning to trust their abilities by giving them the opportunity to travel independently out of the country, said Rebecca Sanchez, a professor in the teacher education graduate department.
“Because we have learned from the previous group the types of information they would like to receive in advance, we have structured our meetings around those topics to assist the students in transitioning from their schools here to the school experience they will have in Austria,” she said.
Jaramillo said she and her fellow students prepared lesson plans before going on the exchange, but often had to alter them based on class schedules and student abilities.
“We had on a lot more than we expected, but in the end it turned out better than we anticipated,” Jaramillo said.
She said future students should go with an open mind and enjoy the experience of a different culture.