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“Teachers to Kazakhstan” Program Expands Horizons

Ian Baez enjoyed the opportunity to expand his cultural horizons through Armstrong’s innovative Teachers to Kazakhstan program in December of 2011.

This graduate student and aspiring teacher, who is currently completing an M.A.T. with an emphasis in science and history at Armstrong, loves to travel and was intrigued by the idea of spending 11 days in Kazakhstan, a progressive Muslim nation that ranks as the ninth largest country in the world, teaching English to students and teachers alike.

“This trip will definitely help me be a better teacher,” Ian reports. “It was a unique experience I can draw from in the future. We had to learn how to make lesson plans on the fly and really think on our feet. If you want to be a good teacher, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty and leave your comfort zone.”

Diana Hess, a graduate student finishing an M.A.T. with an emphasis on social studies and science, agrees. “It was pretty amazing,” she says of the trip to Kazakhstan. “Having the opportunity to work in a school abroad and learn about a different educational system was fascinating to me.”

Diana particularly enjoyed the opportunity to teach English to students ranging in age from first to eleventh grade. Fascinated by the Soviet influence on the educational system in Kazakhstan, she noticed that students routinely stood up in unison whenever a teacher entered or exited the classroom.

Armed with an undergraduate degree in Cultural Anthropology and a passion for travel, Diana jumped at the chance to study abroad in Kazakhstan. “I’m very interested in people from around the world,” she explains. “I’ve never been to Asia before. When you have an opportunity like that, you have to take it. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Ian, Diana and Bonnie Terrell (BSED Social Studies/Language Arts) were part of a small group of aspiring teachers traveling from Savannah to Kazakhstan with Dr. Patrick Thomas, an associate professor of Secondary, Adult and Physical Education at Armstrong. Dr. Thomas originally started an exchange program with teachers in Kazakhstan 11 years ago while working in Kansas. When this accomplished educator joined the faculty at Armstrong in 2001, he took this innovative study abroad program with him, organizing four student trips from Savannah over the years.

Although the December program included frigid, sub-zero winter temperatures, Dr. Thomas and the Armstrong students enjoyed plenty of warm hospitality from their host families. They also got plenty of experience working with teachers and students. In the first two days of the trip, Armstrong students taught 64 different lessons at the Economic Lyceum of Astana, located in the nation’s capital.

After enjoying five days in Astana, including a memorable tour of the nation’s Pyramid of Peace and Reconciliation, the group spent a few days in Borovoe, a former Soviet retreat that operates today as a popular resort area. In the end, the participants enjoyed the opportunity to teach abroad and brought back plenty of stories to share with family and friends.

“Kazakhstan is a real cultural crossroads,” said Dr. Thomas. “It’s a fascinating country. I wanted the students to get teaching experience with a completely different population and to have a cultural experience in a totally foreign environment.”