College of Education > News and Publications > News: July-September 2014 > College of Education Student Awarded Study Abroad Grant

College of Education Student Awarded Study Abroad Grant

Michelle Hart received the Phi Kappa Phi Study Abroad Grant to help fund her trip to Ecuador where she traveled, studied and taught.

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA— College of Education junior Michelle Hart was recently awarded the Phi Kappa Phi Study Abroad Grant of $1,000 from the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi to financially assist her with her five-week trip to Otavalo, Ecuador. She traveled, studied and taught elementary students with the Penn State Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) Certificate Program with an Ecuador Immersion Experience.

Michelle Hart with children in Ecuador
Michelle Hart with children in Ecuador
Hart, a Schreyer scholar majoring in Childhood and Early Adolescent Education (pre-kindergarten through fourth grade option) with a minor in Special Education, learned that she won the grant just a few weeks before leaving her home in Victor, New York, to embark on her journey.

“I was so excited, I couldn’t believe it,” said Hart. “Then I was even more astounded to learn that only 50 people in the nation received it.”

In addition to satisfying the academic achievement requirements to join the Honor Society, Hart said she joined it because of its emphasis on studying abroad and global engagement.

“I have always had the dream to teach abroad in a developing country,” she said. “When I heard about [the Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) Certificate Program with an Ecuador Immersion Experience] at Penn State, I immediately fell in love.”

The Penn State program allows students to complete a field teaching experience by working with Penn State faculty mentors to teach English to Ecuadorian youth. Participants study a second language and culture; observe, plan and implement ESL instruction; and gain experience working within a community of English learners. The program is approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, enabling teachers to receive an ESL Program Specialist Certificate.

After spending one week traveling and observing different classrooms throughout Ecuador, Hart taught both academic content and language to 12 students ages 10 to 12 who spoke Spanish as their native language.

For the final open house with the Ecuadorian students and their families, Hart’s students worked in groups to create visuals about the food groups that they presented in English to their peers and parents.

“[The students] are used to a very authoritative classroom environment,” said Hart. “Getting them to work outside of their comfort zone on group projects and learn together in collaborative settings was really challenging, yet rewarding.”

Hart hopes to apply the lessons she learned in Otavalo to her professional teaching career.

“Each culture is very unique,” said Hart. “You have to keep that in mind when teaching kids with varying backgrounds, even in the United States.”

Hart will study abroad in Sweden in Spring 2015 at Jönköping University, where she will take education classes and hopes to observe a Swedish classroom. Once graduated, she aspires to spend some time abroad teaching in her own classroom to fully experience her students’ development. She plans to return to the United States to teach either mainstream or ESL classes.

Hart said about her abroad experience, “Being able to both teach English abroad and fully immerse in the surrounding culture by living with an Ecuadorian family has been a dream come true.”

--by (September 2014)