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TESOL, study abroad programs improve students’ confidence, help University create develop reputation

May 14, 2008

UW-River Falls Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and some English students have a rare opportunity to take their education to a higher level.

The TESOL abroad program differs from standard study abroad programs in that students who participate in the TESOL program are actually teaching their foreign peers rather than simply learning with them.

Participants help the natives develop their conversational English to a point where they are confident in their ability to speak to English-native speakers.

”[The classes] help pull their English out and allow them to use it in a way that they’re comfortable,” Laura Harsdorf, a UWRF student who participated in last summer’s program in Taiwan, said.

This summer is the second year UWRF has offered international TESOL opportunities. Assistant Professors of English Robyne Tiedeman and Vladimir Pavlov will lead students to Shih Hsin University in Taipei, Taiwan and to Artek International Children’s Center in the Crimea, Ukraine, respectively, English department Chair Laura Zlogar said in an e-mail interview.

”The experience of teaching international students is invaluable,” Zlogar said.

“It’s real teaching,” Tiedeman said. “On [the students’] resumes, this real experience they’ve had will help them find a job.”

Harsdorf considered the experience as a chance to utilize the knowledge she is being taught in her classes at UWRF.

“College is like an incubator,” she said. “When you’re in college you’re in the light and heat. You’re feeding offall the information. When you get out you’re supposed to be able to use that.”

Harsdorf also said that she was able to bring more discussion to her classes when she returned from her summer abroad.

Tiedeman also considered the experience to be invaluable.

“[Our students] got real practical experience in a serious way,” he said.

The TESOLexchange program is still being run on a year-byyear basis, Tiedeman said, “but we hope it becomes a regular tradition.”

Not every UWRF student is able to participate in the programs.

“Since both of these programs require that students teach English-in formal and informal settings-they are only open to students with course work and training in English language and TESOLcourses,” Zlogar said.

The experience made an impact on both UWRF exchange students as well as the natives.

“At the end, I felt that all seven of [our students] felt they were teachers,” Tiedeman said. “It clearly improved their techniques … and their confidence.”

While this particular international experience is not available to many UWRF students, there are other opportunities to study and gain global experience. According to the most recent Global Connections Office list of international agreements, there are 13 institutions with which UWRF has a relationship described as either active or signed. There are even more that are unsigned, in progress or pending.

Some agreements have been renewed since the document’s November 2007 date, Global Connections Office Manager Connie Simpson said. Even so, the University is in much better shape than it had been.

“Until Chancellor Betz got here, no one knew where all of these were,” Simpson said.

She said that the various agreements had previously been kept by the individual colleges that initiated the relationships.

Generally these agreements are developed because of a connection an individual staff or faculty member or administrator has with an international body, Brown said.

The number of potential international opportunities affects everyone on campus, whether they participate in study abroad programs or not. The foreign universities UWRF sends students to often send students of their own to study here, Simpson said, and those who stay on this campus their whole college career get to meet international peers on their home ground.

“These international connections are vital to the University because they are facilitating UWRF’sability to take our students and faculty into the world and also bring the world to UWRF,” Chancellor Don Betz said in an e-mail interview.

International agreements are a part of the University’sstrategic plan for 2007-2012. In this plan, UWRF aims “to provide opportunities for a greater number of students and faculty to pursue international travel/study abroad-student participation rate of 20% within four years, 50% within eight years,” according to Initiative 3.1 of the plan.

“People haven’t heard of us at UWRF,” Simpson said. “[International programs] help us make a name for ourselves.”

Terry Brown, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, stressed the importance of keeping a global perspective in education.

“The world is not the same place as it was,” she said. “If we aren’t preparing our students to go out … with a global understanding of the world, … we are not preparing them to succeed.”