Grace Burken

Major: Elementary Education
Class: Senior
Timeframe: Spring 2022
Program: International Student Teaching - Norway
Destination: International Student Teaching - Norway

Overall Experience

Student teaching internationally was a whirlwind of excitement, nerves, elation, and contentment. Traveling abroad and living in another country for two months was one of the scariest things I have ever done but my experience was absolutely worth it. During my time in Norway, I was welcomed with open arms by the community and the school I was placed in. The locals invited us into their homes and took us on various excursions such as fishing and sailing. I was in a very different part of the world but the people there made me feel comfortable and cherished. Every day I had opportunities to immerse myself in the outdoor culture of Norway through hikes, camping, and kayaking. There was so much to do and so many incredible opportunities that I didn't want to miss out on so I was always busy. The best part of student teaching internationally was having the chance to see what education is like in another part of the world. I was challenged because of the language barrier but also because the values that their schools hold differ from the ones we hold in the U.S. I had to change my perspectives and allow myself to be comfortable being uncomfortable. This was a life-changing experience for me and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Learning experience

An incredibly eye-opening experience for me was not knowing the dominant language spoken in day-to-day conversation. While most students and staff at my school were able to speak English, many had a limited vocabulary or were too shy to attempt a foreign language. This meant that I spent some class periods and most meetings not understanding a word that was spoken. This was hard but it was the most impactful part of my experience. Now that I have had the chance to experience this, I will be able to connect with my students who are English Language Learners on a level that I wouldn't have been able to reach without it. I have a better understanding of the feelings they might have during the day and a better understanding of how I can try to reach out to them and provide them with avenues for understanding. My whole reason for student teaching abroad was to grow and this allowed me to do exactly that.

Memorable experience

The most memorable time I can remember from this experience was when I went camping with two of the other student teachers. We hiked from our small town to some basic cabins that are open to anyone to use. We spent the night in a cabin eating local candies, grilling hot dogs, and playing cards. The tranquility of the space we were in and being removed from society and the internet created such a peaceful experience. I felt so connected with the women I was with and so thankful to be able to do that. Not only was this such an incredible experience because of the happiness and contentment I felt, it also showed me cultural differences between Norway and the United States. There are small cabins like this, ones open for public use, all over the country. They were stocked with candles, lanterns, and blankets, and wood, and everyone who used these spaces respected them.

What did you not expect?

The biggest surprise to me was how much the students in Norway were aware of the world around them. They knew so much about countries around the world and many had a great fascination with the United States. This is partially due to the size of Norway (about 5.3 million), but regardless, it showed me how small my world view was growing up. I learned a lot about the United States and various things around the country but I felt that I rarely looked outward and was not often interested in foreign places. I hope to take this realization and put it to work in the future. I want to make more of an effort to stay up to date on world events and develop my understanding of cultures around the world.

What advice would you give?

I would tell them that if there is any inkling in your heart or mind that you want to study abroad / student teach abroad then do it. It will be scary, and you will be nervous but that is all part of the process. The incredible people you will meet and things you will do will vastly outweigh any initial negative feelings you have. You do not often come across opportunities like this so you should take advantage of it!

How has this experience impacted your life?

Due to my time abroad, I have been able to expand my worldview and see how people in different areas of the world live. The values and the behaviors of people in different cultures can vary greatly and I was able to reflect how the place I grew up impacted my thoughts and ideas. I can now take skills I have learned in Norwegian classrooms and practices they use and mesh these with the teaching practices I have learned at Iowa State to create an environment that works best for my future students. This new understanding I have found will allow me to better connect with new people I meet and will allow me to be more comfortable with the differences that exist between myself and others. I am more empathetic, understanding, and appreciative of the world around me and this experience has just strengthened my urge to learn more about the world.

How did you learn about this experience?

I first heard about this opportunity through some of my professors. I was encouraged to go to the Open House for International Student Teaching. I went my sophomore year which gave me lots of time to think over this decision and research the various sites I could go to.

International Connections