The College of Education continues to grow its global initiatives, with more students throughout the university going abroad than ever before
Wednesday, September 6, 2023

In the past year alone, University of Iowa College of Education students have taught children in Costa Rica, explored Joetsu College of Education in Japan, toured art museums in London, visited classrooms in Ghana, and more.

Video produced by Mei-Ling Shaw

These experiences are all thanks to the College of Education’s abundance of global education initiatives.

“The goal in helping our students go abroad is that ultimately, these experiences will enrich their lives, expose them to multiple perspectives, and transform the way they think about the world, thus influencing the students, families, and communities in which they will work in positive ways,” says Will Coghill-Behrends, director of the College of Education’s Global Education Initiatives in the Baker Teacher Leader Center.

The College of Education’s Global Education Initiatives continue to strengthen existing partnerships and create new opportunities for students and faculty, including programs in Costa Rica, Finland, Ghana, India, Japan, Kosovo, and Norway, among other international collaborations active in the college. In the last three years, despite the global pandemic, more than 250 students participated in virtual and in-person global education opportunities. 

Ngonyo Mungara block printing fabric in Ghana. Photo by Daniel McGregor
Top: Ngonyo Mungara block printing fabric
in Ghana.
Bottom: Di Shaun Walker at Benabi Academy
in Accra, Ghana.

One student who got the chance to experience these global opportunities is Ngonyo Mungara. An alumna from Muscatine Iowa, Mungara participated in the Ghana Education and Culture program during June 2023.

Mungara and 16 other University of Iowa students spent 17 days in Accra, Ghana, exploring a variety of education models, gaining an understanding of Ghanian history and culture, and analyzing the impact on slavery in Ghana.  

“It was interesting for me to experience a new culture and meet people from a different country,” says Mungara. “All the people in Ghana are very welcoming. Everyone wants to get to know you regardless of who you are or your race.”

Mungara graduated with a degree in Education Studies and Human Relations in the spring of 2023. She is now pursuing a Master of Public Health from the University of Iowa.  

“Having a global perspective in public health is so necessary because the way that health systems and the government operate in different countries is completely different. Being in Ghana made me realize there's so many things about our health system in the U.S. that operate completely differently in Ghana,” says Mungara. “Even just simple things like, like hand washing practices, the way bathrooms are, and the way food is prepared is different. It makes you think we maybe have solved a problem in the U.S. but there are countries that are still working to solve them.” 

Mungara says traveling abroad helps expand people’s perspectives of the world.

Di Shaun Walker at Benabi Academy in Accra, Ghana.
Top: Di Shaun Walker at Benabi Academy in Accra, Ghana.
Bottom: Ngonyo Mungara block printing fabric in Ghana.

“I think if you stay in one place and don't travel much, you kind of have a single-minded view of how people are and how the world works. But if you travel and meet different people, different places, you learn different perspectives, you learn different cultures, you learn how people live different places,” says Mungara.

Amira Nash, associate director of Partnerships and Programs in the Baker Teacher Leader Center, says broadening perspectives and turning students into global students is a driving force behind the College of Education’s Global Education Initiatives.

When she was a student at the University of Iowa, Nash was involved in global experiences. Now, as a staff member and doctoral student in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education, Nash is paving the way for other students to go global.

“Before I had ever gone abroad, I thought of myself as a person living in Iowa, and I didn't think that much about the rest of the world. When you become a global citizen, I think you really think about the people in those places. How do those people go about their days? What are their worries? What are their joys,” says Nash.

Nash says becoming a global citizen allows students to celebrate differences.

“When our students become global citizens, they start to think about themselves in relation to the rest of the world and they start to understand what it means to have relationships with people in other parts of the world,” says Nash. “You can think about the positives in difference and how can we celebrate the differences. And you're able to be a better person in the world in relation to our peers in the world.”

Nash says traveling abroad not only increases empathy and understanding for global communities, but also communities close to home.

“When people can think about the world in a different way and broaden their perspectives, they not only understand and appreciate difference when we're abroad but also the difference in our own communities,” says Nash. “Even here in Iowa City, we have so much difference. How can we be more empathetic with the people around us and realize where we are and who we are in the community,” says Nash.

Becoming a global citizen is particularly meaningful for teacher education students.

“I think it's so important for teacher education program students to develop global competencies because once they have their own classroom, they'll be able to affect hundreds of people,” says Nash. 

TEP student Galilea Flores
TEP student Galilea Flores

Two TEP students who will take their experiences abroad into the classroom are Galilea Flores and Megan Biondi.

Both students participated in the Uvita Youth Outdoors University for Leadership, Environment, and self-Awareness Development program (YOU- LEAD) in Costa Rica and Panama.

Biondi, a senior from Des Moines, Iowa, studying English Education, had her first international experience during the Costa Rica trip.

TEP student Megan Biondi
TEP student Megan Biondi

“I think that you should step out of your comfort zone. Going abroad was a little bit scary because I've never experienced something like that. But once I did it, I want to travel more now. I want to go to a lot of places and to meet a lot of people and even to teach and to learn from other people,” says Biondi.

Not only was it Biondi’s first time out of the country, she also did not speak much Spanish prior to going on the trip.

“In such a short amount of time the kids’ confidence in speaking English grew. It was interesting for them to not only learn how to communicate with me in English, but for me to communicate with them in Spanish,” says Biondi.

Biondi says she is excited to bring her experience abroad back to the classroom.

“I'm actually really looking forward to sharing my experience in Costa Rica because I learned a lot. I hope that being able to build the relationships that I built with Costa Rican students makes me more effective at being able to build relationships in the classroom,” says Biondi.

Similar to Biondi, Flores says that she learned many lessons to take into her future classroom.

“As a future language teacher this really helped me. Every day we were working with students battling through language barriers, but I was able to apply methods that I knew and learned from the students and teachers around me and I will be able to apply those methods in my future classroom and be able to work through the language barriers,” says Flores.

From Iowa City, Flores is a sophomore studying Spanish and World Language Education. After graduation, she hopes to become a Spanish teacher, specifically an English Language Learner (ELL) teacher.

“I’m interested in continuing to internationalize my education. Now that I know I have the privilege of going abroad, it has very much shaped my four years here,” says Flores. “I feel very grateful for the privilege to start going abroad my first year here at Iowa. I recommend everyone to do it.”

As a first-year student during the trip to Costa Rica, Flores was able to learn from the other TEP students on the trip.

Students from the College of Education and Liceo Pacifico Sur enjoy team building activities as part of a global education initiative, Project YOULEAD, in Costa Rica.
Students from the College of Education and Liceo Pacifico Sur 
enjoy team building activities as part of a global education 
initiative, Project YOULEAD, in Costa Rica in summer of 2023, 
just one of many opportunities for students and faculty. 

“I was one of the youngest students on the trip, I was able to learn from faculty and students who were older than me who regretted not going abroad earlier in college,” says Flores. “I got a lot of tips and help from other students since I was a first-year student. If I didn’t go on this trip, I wouldn’t have known about the many opportunities here at the College of Education.”

Flores received her first teaching experience in a classroom in Costa Rica.

“As a first year student, I was intimidated by going into the classroom, especially with other students who may have done practicums or student teaching when I hadn’t been in a classroom yet. But I felt so prepared and welcomed, it was just a breeze. As soon as I got into the classroom the anxiety went away,” says Flores. “We were role models for the kids. Hearing that I made an impact even if it was for such a short time, it is something that I will carry and continue to use.” 

Flores was also able to see the impact she and her fellow students had on the children they worked with in Costa Rica.

“A lot of students came up to me and said ‘my language skills improved because of you’ and that really hit me. I was able to make an impact on this community," says Flores. “Seeing the impact you can make on students, regardless of if you speak the same language as them or if you are considering being a teacher, I think it is beneficial for everyone.”

Flores says she was encouraged to go on the trip by College of Education staff and faculty, specifically Nash.

“It really just takes one person to help guide and shape your path. For me, it was Amira Nash who allowed me to internationalize my background and to expand my educational experiences,” says Flores. “I want to be a role model for my siblings and other young Latinas out there so they know they have the opportunity.”

Flores says she wants to continue to advocate for current and future Iowa students to go on global trips.

“The faculty members that I have met here at the College of Ed have really helped guide my path and have assured me that I do belong here and that I can go on these trips and be in these programs, regardless of being a Latina student, first generation, or lower income,” says Flores. “I hope that I can continue to advocate for minority and first-generation students coming in because it really makes an impact. My career path has definitely shifted because of this trip and because of my participation in the College of Education.”

UI REACH student Ethan Jones
UI REACH student, Ethan Jones, in Japan.

Traditional students were not the only ones able to get involved in global experiences. For the first time, students from the UI REACH Program participated in College of Education Global Education Initiatives.

One of these students was third year UI REACH Program student Ethan Jones. Originally from Colorado, Jones participated in a trip to Japan during spring 2023. 

“I signed up for the trip to experience something I could never experience in the United States. I would be immersed fully in a new culture that I respected and admired, also being able to learn a new language and a new way of living was something I will never forget,” says Jones.

His favorite part of the experience was visiting and teaching at a local elementary school in Joetsu.

“The kids were so much fun and really had me feeling welcome in the new environment I was in. I’ll never forget their laughter and joy on their faces when we were there,” says Jones. “This part of the trip will be something I will never forget.”

Jones joined the UI REACH program to find a career that fits him and to learn to live independently. After graduation, he hopes to grow his photography business and become a full-time photographer.

Jones says global experiences are great for UI REACH students because it allows them to utilize the skills they learn through the program.

“I would recommend UI REACH students go on international trips because it does help you work on being independent,” says Jones. “On the trip you’re responsible for your own things, you’re working on time management, and holding yourself accountable for your actions. It’s a fast track to adulthood in my opinion.”

Coghill-Behrends says it is important for all students to have the opportunity to travel internationally.

 “It is our job to prepare students for the world they are going to enter as professionals, we would be doing them a disservice if our approach didn’t include as many opportunities as possible to meet as many different people, cultures, and languages as possible,” says Coghill-Behrends. “I’m so glad the college is committed to helping students have these kinds of experiences and then learn how to share this personal transformation with others.”

For many students, the ability to participate in global trips is contingent upon scholarships. Coghill-Behrends says the College of Education does not take the need for scholarships lightly.

One of Costa Rica's numerous beautiful waterfalls.
One of Costa Rica's numerous beautiful
waterfalls. Watch the video online:

“Study abroad has long had a reputation for excluding low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, and indigenous students. It has been our commitment from the onset to ensure that every single student in the College of Education can have an experience and that we would do all we could to remove barriers to that experience,” says Coghill-Behrends.

Funding largely comes from the generosity of Linda and Dale Baker, who believe international experiences are a pivotal part of education.

“Scholarship funding ends up being in this instance life-changing, because without the financial support, many of these experiences would simply be out of reach,” says Coghill-Behrends. “The generous funding support that we have to provide students in the college is incredible. I hope we can continue to generate donor support to help us continue to remove these barriers and make these experiences available to everyone.”

Flores says the funding is crucial to helping students internationalize their education.

As a lower-income student, when I got accepted, I was worried about how I was going to pay for this trip, but the amount of scholarships that are out there is heartwarming. They are available for all types of students,” says Flores. “I don’t want my financial status to be a barrier for me throughout my four years here and hearing that there are many opportunities such as scholarships and grants, is amazing. I can continue my education with the help of others.”

Flores’s advice to anyone interested in global experiences? You don’t lose anything by signing up.

“For me, being a first-generation, lower-income, Latina student, I want to be that representation for other students and advocate for other students. You can do this, it doesn’t matter your background or financial status, the College of Education is here to support you,” says Flores.

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