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Families benefit from teacher exchange program

By Jesse Campbell (jesse.campbell@mountaintimes.com)



Article Published: Jun. 27, 2013 | Modified: Jun. 27, 2013

Watauga County families are urged to open their hearts, minds and homes this fall in hopes they might host an international teacher as part of an education exchange program through Appalachian State University.

Known as the Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program, the six-week-long seminar will host 22 foreign teachers who specialize in English as a second language in their native countries, according to a news release.

The program will include coursework at the university before the teachers are assigned internships in high schools throughout Ashe, Watauga, Wilkes, Caldwell and Burke counties.

During their internships, the teachers will be staying in hotels with the exception of one special weekend, said Sarah Bergstedt, director of ASU’s International Outreach Office of International Education and Development.

Program officials are hoping area families will agree to host a teacher as part of the Home Stay Weekend for Oct. 25-27.

The resulting interactions between the families and teachers during the Home Stay Weekend can be a mutually beneficial experience.

“It’s a fantastic part of the program because a big part of the TEA fellows is the opportunity to be in the U.S. and to be exposed to American culture,” Bergstedt said. “For most of them, it’s their first time outside of their country. Most of these teachers are anywhere between their late 20s and early 50s (in age). They have a really strong expertise or passion for teaching. They tend to be very wonderful people who are really interested in teaching and working with students. They want to learn everything they can about American culture.”

The Home Stay Weekend is also a learning opportunity for the host families.

“This is a great opportunity to learn about other areas of the world that we don’t know very much about,” Bergstedt said.

Past groups of teaching fellows have come from a wide range of regions, including Argentina, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Haiti, Morocco, Panama, Thailand and many others.
All teachers will have a stipend of funds, so host families will only be expected to pay food and costs associated with lodging.

Students from the local high schools where the teachers will be interning will also enjoy cultural enrichment activities.

“It’s a great opportunity for teachers and the kids,” Bergstedt said. “When the teachers go in for their internships, they interact with the students and also do some co-teaching. This is an opportunity for the kids and teachers to learn where they are from and to learn what the schools are like there. It’s a great cultural exchange that we are very lucky to have. It’s rare that we get this much diversity anywhere with teachers.”

Christy Arney and Allen Miller of Caldwell County hosted Sufia Khatun, a teacher from Bangladesh, during a previous Home Stay Weekend.

“It was a wonderful experience for all of us,” Arney said. “My husband (Miller) said it best when we he said it was ‘like travelling internationally without leaving home.’

Arney said the cultural differences between Bangladesh and the United States made excellent conversation during Khatun’s stay.

“In some of these discussions, we learned that she lived in a multifamily house with her mother-in-law, her husband’s five brothers and their families,” Arney said. “We learned that she rode a rickshaw to her school everyday (and) that you do not touch a person of the opposite sex who is not family, and their food is much spicier.”

Despite only being together for a short time, Arney said she was enlightened and privileged to spend time with Khatun.

“When you get to spend time with someone from another culture in a relaxed setting, it is eye opening to learn things that you never knew would be different, so you never would have thought to ask,” she said. We now have a friend in Bangladesh and an invite to visit whenever we want. We can’t wait to do a home stay again.

Even though it was Khatun who was visiting a foreign land, Miller said it was the little everyday things that made the visit all the more special.

“We were able to share new experiences with Sufia (Khatun) that brought smiles to all of our faces,” Miller said. “She was excited as a child when she first saw snow and went sledding. Another thing she wanted to see was an apple on a tree, so we were there when she first experienced that, too.”

Small cultural exchanges, such as the one Miller’s family shared with Khatun, is one example of how open minds can lead to greater understanding between two very different worlds.

“Although many things are different between our cultures, we discussed how all the people of the world want to have their basic needs met to sustain us and to love and be loved,” Miller said. “We had many political, religious and cultural discussions that deepened our understanding of each other and mutual respect for people different than us.”

For more information and to apply to be a 2013 TEA Home Stay Family, visit international.appstate.edu/tea_2013 or contact Bergstedt in the Office of International Education and Development at (828) 262-8046 or by email at (bergstedtss@appstate.edu)

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