Student Teaching Overseas: Science Education Students Complete Student Teaching in Brazil and China

Alyssa Jacobson and Mark Busch could tell you a thing or two about what it’s like to live and teach in another country. Both recent UNI graduates started their teaching careers overseas when they stepped out of their comfort zones and traveled to Brazil and China to complete their student teaching.       

After attending the UNI International Teachers Fair in February of 2011, Waverly native, Mark Busch, made the decision to travel overseas to Escola Americana de Brasília (American School of Brazil) to complete his student teaching. He relied heavily on the Out-of-State/International Student Teaching Office at UNI in making the decision and embarked on his adventure July 2011.

As with most overseas adventures, Busch ran into several challenges besides the language barrier. “Certain countries have heavy importation restrictions, which makes it difficult to get resources in a timely manner. I learned to teach with what I had, using chemicals and other supplies that I could easily find at the grocery store or local shops. By doing so, it actually provided great “real-life” applications for my laboratory activities, which aided in student learning.”

Innovation and determination aided Busch during his time in Brazil, and when he completed his teaching experience, the school offered him the opportunity to finish the rest of the school year as a paid member of the high school science faculty. Needless to say, Busch jumped at the opportunity and spent the rest of the school year gaining valuable experience. Not all of his time spend in Brazil was spent imparting wisdom to the next generation and combing the local markets for materials to use in lessons. Busch also had the opportunity to travel and sample all sorts of foods, culture and adventures. “In Brazil, the food is light, fresh and utterly delicious. I also thoroughly enjoy spending time with my international and Brazilian coworkers outside of the classroom or going to a restaurant to listen to local music and experience the culture of Brazil! A beach vacation every now and then didn’t hurt either.”

Busch returned to the states for a brief period and as of the time of this article, has flown back to Brazil to continue teaching. He highly recommends students take advantage of opportunities overseas. “Student teaching is a great transitional period between being a college student and being a full-time educator, but it also means that this is our last time to really explore and be adventurous before we enter the workforce.  Take an opportunity like this and explore a little piece of the world! You will grow so much as an educator and as a member of the global community!”

Originally from Cedar Rapids, Alyssa Jacobson also took the opportunity to complete her student teaching in another culture. Instead of choosing a Portuguese speaking country like Busch however, she decided to fly all the way to the other side of the world and teach in Xiamen, China. For Jacobson, it was a combination of professional and personal reasons that pushed her to pursue her student teaching experience overseas. “Professionally, I was looking for a challenging experience in which I would learn more about teaching and reaching out to students. Personally, I wanted to push my boundaries and see just how well I could handle myself in a completely different environment. I chose to teach in China because I have a personal interest in learning about the people, history and culture.”

“The most important thing I learned while overseas was to be flexible and accepting. There are several things that the Chinese people do that a typical American would find incredibly rude, but they deem it acceptable behavior. I quickly learned to let those things go and adapt to it.”

Once she adapted to the differences in the two cultures, Jacobson was able to connect with new friends and experience exciting opportunities. When she wasn’t learning how to better adapt lessons, assisting English language learners in the classroom and helping coach cheerleading, Jacobson was exploring places like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City as well as local food shops. “In my free time I liked to explore the local area and take pictures of places that I stumbled upon.”

Jacobson also experienced difficulties in finding materials to use in her lessons but communication was the greatest challenge she faced. “The biggest issue I had was not being able to speak the language. I had learned a little before I arrived and quickly learned some useful phrases after I arrived, but it was not enough to communicate effectively.”

Despite the challenges and issues both students faced, the experience they gained and the adventures they had more than made up for it.