Elizabeth Schmidt

Major: Early Childhood Education
Class: Senior
Timeframe: Spring 2019
Type of Experience: International Student Teaching
Program: Ecuador
Destination: Ecuador

Overall Experience

This experience helped me to hone my skills in classroom management while immersing myself into a different culture and language. I lived with a host family which was ideal for a complete immersion experience. My days in Cuenca were incredibly busy with teaching, language classes, and culture classes as well as weekend trips with the other student teachers. I loved learning about Ecuador and its many different indigenous groups.

Learning experience

The most valuable experience that I had during this trip was with my students. I learned so much about Ecuadorian culture from these young Ecuadorians. I learned more about the culture, norms, and beliefs from these six and seven year olds because they have no other knowledge of how life is lived outside of their culture. I learned that relationships are vital for happiness and building knowledge. I learned that Ecuadorians value their friendships and families over other commitments because their relationships shape their whole lives.

Memorable experience

My most memorable experience was our day in Saraguro. We learned about multiple indigenous groups that live in this area of Ecuador. I experienced traditional foods, including guinea pig, that these groups of people value and enjoy. This weekend was a compilation of hiking and viewing nature, learning about the people that create this country, and building relationships with the other student teachers.

What did you not expect?

I was surprised by the negative opinions that the Ecuadorians had toward the Venezuelan refugees. We were constantly informed of what was happening in Venezuela and how that affected Ecuadorian economy and culture. After witnessing the prejudices and feelings of the Ecuadorians about people of other countries, I hope to be more understanding of refugees and people in need. I want to see my students as people, not as an ethnicity, race, or "other." They are an important part in my future classroom and should be acknowledged as people.

What advice would you give?

Live in the moment. This experience was incredibly quick and I feel that I blinked and it was gone. Take the opportunities to explore and experience the culture, but don't forget to spend time with your host family in the evenings and at lunch. This experience is set up so that teaching takes precedence, but it is okay to be flexible and experience the culture while planning for teaching.

How has this experience impacted your life?

This experience will forever shape how I view dual-language learners, students, teaching, and families. My understanding of dual-language learners is now shaped by my experience as a dual language learner. Throughout my time here my Spanish-speaking skills have increased greatly but at the beginning I was incredibly nervous. I could understand so much of the language around me, but was completely incapable of answering or responding to questions. This is very similar to students I will have in the future who are going through a “silent period” in which producing the language is difficult, but understanding is there. It has completely changed my level of patience with the first graders I taught here. I understand that sometimes the language does not make sense, it makes sense but speaking is impossible, and the moments when everything makes sense and is communication is possible. The progression from the beginning to end of this understanding and use of a second language can be very slow or very fast so patience and continued support is essential for student success. These students have taught me so much about what teaching in a low-technology school looks like. The school here does not have internet outside of the teacher workroom, so the way that I have planned and worked with my students does not include technology. I have used movement activities and lessons to support concepts and material. These activities are much more effective than worksheets and workbooks that the national teachers and parents prefer. I have had to think outside of the box to find activities that are hands-on because even manipulatives are difficult to find here. These students have responded so positively to the movement activities. I will forever remember how well they learned skip counting by 5s and how to tell time when we created a clock in our room and they became minutes. These students have taught me that chaos within the classroom can be good chaos. Their culture is very relationally based, so focusing on the teacher is not always a priority and I have learned to accept this and build activities based within this understanding of my students. Tailoring my teaching to meet my students needs, interests, and preferences has been one of the most useful teaching strategies while I have been here. I am so thankful for the things that these students have taught me about teaching curriculum in appropriate ways. I have been living with a family during my eight weeks here and it has been incredible. I have been able to experience the family culture of Ecuador. This experience has opened my eyes to daily life of Ecuadorians and has allowed me eat, sleep, and breathe the culture. The family I am living with includes my host mom, who is 73. She has four adult children, three of whom live in Cuenca. Two of her children come over to eat dinner with their mom most nights of the week. Almost every Sunday, there is a family gathering for lunch and the afternoon at her eldest daughter's house. This includes her three children, their children, and grandchildren. We all eat lunch together and then watch movies and TV the whole afternoon. They catch up on important life events while we eat lunch and then relax together. It makes me miss my family, but shows how important quality time and time with family is to the Ecuadorian people. I have loved getting to be a part of this gathering, even when the Spanish goes over my head. It has shown me that you never know what a person's family is like or what their time with each other looks like. I want to carry this understanding that culture is deeper than appearances into my future classroom. Overall, this experience has been incredible for me. I have learned so much about myself and how I learn and communicate with people. I have learned how to effectively teach young dual language learners and how to differentiate for the various levels of dual language acquisition. No two students of mine were identical in their understanding of English. In my future career and for the rest of my life I will carry the cultural learning and language skills of Ecuador with me.

How did you learn about this experience?

I learned about this experience at the Student Teaching Abroad open house.

International Connections