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June 3, 2011 Gain a New Perspective on Teaching and Learning: Study Abroad This Summer! By Danielle Mahoney
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    Last week we looked at how we can help students make great summer reading plans. This week it’s all about YOUR plans for the summer. Are you signed up to teach summer school? Or will you take some time off to relax and recharge?

    Last week we looked at how we can help students make great summer reading plans. This week it’s all about YOUR plans for the summer. Are you signed up to teach summer school? Or will you take some time off to relax and recharge? Perhaps you’re going to do something really meaningful and volunteer. Or maybe you’re looking to learn a new language and explore a foreign country? I've got a few ideas that include many of these possibilities. Get your bags packed and your passports stamped to study and volunteer abroad!

    Making Plans to Travel, Study, and Volunteer

    Imagine living in a country where you are surrounded by a foreign language, a new culture, and new customs. Exciting, but scary, right? So many of our English language learners know this all too well. Putting yourself in your students' shoes can give you a brand new perspective on your teaching practice. With two months off, we have a great opportunity to immerse ourselves in a new language, adjust to a new culture, and interact with amazing people with a common interest.  

    Think about these questions as you begin to make your plans:

    • Where do you want to travel?
    • How long do you want to stay? 
    • Can you take your family with you or will you be traveling alone?
    • Will there be volunteer placement?
    • How much will it all cost?

    In July of 2010, I boarded a flight to Argentina to have what would be the most incredible experience of my life. I chose Argentina, but you might look into programs in other parts of the world. I hope that by sharing a few of my photographs and experiences with you, I'll inspire you to plan a trip that will change your life and the way you look at your own teaching.

    Choosing the Right Program 


    I wanted a program that would allow me to study abroad AND volunteer. After researching many organizations, I felt confident that Grupo de Intercambio Cultural (GIC) de Argentina was the right choice for me. Marcos Salusso, GIC's program coordinator, patiently answered all of my questions and guided me through my preparations for the trip.

    GIC had a solid program and free volunteer placement. I expected to be a little out of my comfort zone and hoped to learn and grow through this experience. I got that and a whole lot more. 


    Photo: The GIC offices are located in Palacio Barolo, a beautiful building in the center of the city.

    Shortly after arriving in Buenos Aires, Marcos invited all of the students to attend a charity event in Palacio Barolo's lobby. We graciously accepted the invitation and learned to tango for a good cause. Nonperishable food items were collected and donated to a local charity. (I learned that I really do have two left feet, but it was lots of fun. This was one of many experiences out of my comfort zone!) 


    Photo: Kim KissagMarcos Salusso, and I in the lobby of the incredible Palacio Barolo. 

    Centro Universitario de Idiomas (CUI)


    I studied at the University of Buenos AiresCentro Universitario de Idiomas (CUI). Here's a photo of me smiling in front of their bright, red building after class one afternoon. Learning a new language is difficult and lots of work, but the teachers at CUI made it fun and interesting.

    If you decide to study there, you'll quickly identify great teaching methods you're using in your own classroom. 

    We were taught new concepts through music and movies. We learned vocabulary words and verb tenses in the context of Christopher Columbus, a topic we already had a lot of prior knowledge about. There was a mix of direct instruction, independent work, partnerships, and collaborative group work. We were encouraged to learn from one another and were given meaningful homework assignments. Teachers took the time to read our work and give us the feedback we needed to improve our language skills. 


     Visit Local Attractions

    Recoleta Cemetery

    In addition to all the learning that takes place in the classroom, you will also explore a point of interest in the city. My group went on a trip to Recoleta Cemetery:





    Photos: Evita Peron's grave site, all covered in flowers.


    Iguazú National Park

    During my visit, I also took a trip to Iguazú National Park through GIC, and I would HIGHLY recommend it. Actually, go on all of their trips! (They'll offer wine tasting classes, tango shows, and much, much more. Do it all!) The falls are breathtaking. You'll be surrounded by rainbows, rushing water, and beautiful butterflies. This is an experience that should NOT be missed. 



    Reach Out to the Community — Volunteer!

    Volunteering in a foreign country will provide you additional opportunities to practice the language while giving back to the community. My volunteer placement was with El Club Unión de los Pibes (The Kids' Union), an organization located in Barracas, Buenos Aires. 

    Los Pibes is an after-school center under the guidance of Rossi, an amazing woman who serves as director of volunteers. She keeps kids off the street and out of trouble by offering them a safe place to complete their homework, eat snacks, socialize, and of course, play soccer.


    Photo: The little building with a big heart, Club Unión de los Pibes is in a neighborhood considered a bit dangerous for tourists. 


    Photo: Meet Nico, Rossi's son. Here we are working on his English vocabulary. He was so eager to learn. We played games, read books, and colored pictures of blue horses and orange cats. I can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon. 

    Below are some of the educational materials used at Los Pibes, all made by volunteers. Because this organization is strictly volunteer based, there are very few resources and funds available to them. Please contact them if you want to help.


    Food Tour of Argentina

    Recently becoming a vegetarian and heading out to Argentina seemed like a huge disconnect. Because Argentina is known for a diet rich in steak, I thought I might go hungry there. On the contrary, I wound up eating my way through Argentina. And so will you!

    There were tons of fresh fruit and vegetable stands:


    I really enjoyed Argentinean breakfasts of maté, crackers, butter, and dulce de leche. Yum!


    If you miss the traditional American breakfast of champions, order up "revuelto gramajo," and you'll be served a heaping plate of eggs with french fries (hold the ham!). DEEEEEElicous!


    If that wasn't enough, check out these mozzarella empanadas, baked to perfection:


    I left a hot and steamy summer in New York City to a chilly, damp winter in Buenos Aires. I was able to warm myself up with a submarino. (See photo below.) Simply unwrap the chocolate bar and drop it into the mug of steamed milk. Now THAT'S a hot chocolate!


    One evening after class, a few classmates and I walked around Buenos Aires in search of Volta, a famous chain of ice cream stores. What we discovered was a flavor of ice cream I still find myself craving: American Cookies. It's made up of cookies 'n' cream ice cream with gobs and gobs of dulce de leche swirled throughout. Can you say, "AMAZING?"



    Using a Variety of Assessments

    Assessing all that you've learned is an important part of the study abroad experience. At the end of our semester, we were asked to pick a social issue to focus on for a final assignment. We were given topic choice as well as the option to work independently or in small groups. We were asked to come to class ready to have a discussion (strictly in Spanish, of course) and answer questions from students. In addition, we had a written exam that included a multiple choice section, a vocabulary word and definition matching activity, extended responses, and a final written essay.

    I thought about my own assessments and how much choice (or lack thereof) I give my students. How much variety do we offer in our assessments? If we limit student input or fail to consider their learning styles, can we get a true sense of how much they have retained? Taking part in these types of experiences will force you to look at how you approach assessments in your classroom.

    Identifying Problems in the Community

    It was easy for me to choose a topic to discuss for my final project. While visiting Buenos Aires, I felt overwhelmed by the poverty I saw. There were many, many homeless people living in the streets. On days without rain, men and women would make shelters for themselves right in the middle of a plaza or park.


    When the weather was bad, people would drag what little they had underneath movie theater awnings or to the subway stairs. 


    But what touched me most were the children begging in the streets. Many young children sat, soaking wet and filthy, on rain-filled streets with outstretched hands. And the biggest shock of all was that these kids were not alone. Their parents sat begging right alongside them. I couldn't wrap my head around the situation there. How did the government allow this? Doesn't Argentina have child welfare organizations or laws to protect the rights of children? How could kids possibly learn under these conditions? I think of these children often and hope that the Argentinean government finds a way to improve the lives of these children and their families.

    Start Packing Your Suitcase

    Choosing a study and volunteer program through GIC was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I traveled and learned about myself as a teacher, a student, and a human being. There is no doubt in my mind that I returned to New York a changed person. If you are thinking about traveling to Argentina to study and volunteer, GIC is offering a 15% discount to teachers who mention "Scholastic." Contact Marcos to find out more about the programs they offer. You'll fall in love with the children of Buenos Aires, as well as the culture, the language, and the food.  

    Thank you

    Thank You, Teachers!

    It has been a busy year filled with so much joy and learning. Being a part of Scholastic's team of Top Teachers has been an honor. Thank you for taking the time to read my posts. I hope that the work you've seen on the blog each week has opened up your mind to new books and authors, as well as to literacy activities and best practices that have impacted your students in a positive way. Thank you for all of the support and positive feedback this year. I wish each and every one of you a happy, healthy summer filled with lots of adventure. 

    Big hugs to all of you!


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