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"Teaching in different cultures and backgrounds and states and countries – I don't think I can fully articulate the kind of impact that has on a teacher. It is a rare thing and a unique experience that will help me relate to and bond with students who come from all different kinds of backgrounds."

Haley Stephenson '21, B.A. in 4th-8th Grade Education with a Social Studies concentration, History minor

The best things in life are outside of your comfort zone, so go study abroad.

That's Samantha Elliott's advice for fellow School of Education students after having spent Fall 2021 teaching students at El Castillo SEK International School in Madrid, Spain. She and Haley Stephenson '21 were the first students to take advantage of the latest addition to the School of Education's study abroad options. The school also offers placements in Ireland.

Since virtual meetings have become so common during the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Virginia Chambers, Ed.D., was able to use Zoom to observe both students as they taught their lessons, offering them valuable feedback throughout their student teaching experience. 

"My life is forever changed by spending three months in Spain," Stephenson said. "I made friends from other countries and immersed myself in a new culture. It isn't just a cool experience. If you take this kind of risk, you will forever be changed."

In the Q&A below, learn how the opportunity enhanced Elliott and Stephenson's education. 

Samantha Elliott '22

Major: Elementary Education
Hometown: Bedford, Pa.; Bedford Senior High School
Dream job: Become a professor and take my students on study abroad trips
Hobbies and interests: Traveling, hiking, photography and piano 

What were the challenges and benefits of teaching at an international school?

Adjusting to life in a new country, especially one where English is not the primary language, takes time. The school system in Spain is very different from the U.S., so I had to learn to let go of what I knew about teaching in the U.S. and become open to a different way of teaching. I was able to create meaningful relationships and connections with a multicultural student body. My students were able to learn from me, but I was also able to learn a lot from them. They provided me with the opportunity to improve my foreign language skills and gain valuable, cross-cultural work experience. It is an experience that I will hold with me forever and would highly recommend to anyone.

What lessons did you learn from the experience that you'll carry into your career?

I learned how to better understand people from many different cultures, which, in turn, helped me to become more open-minded. I also learned how to better understand and improve myself. I was able to view the peculiarities of my own culture within the context of a society foreign to me, allowing me to more fully realize who I am and where I come from. I improved my communication and social skills while reinforcing my independence. I hope to carry all of this knowledge into my career as a teacher and showcase it on my resume, demonstrating that I learned to become a highly adaptable, self-sufficient individual, unafraid of risks and capable of conquering hurdles.

What did you like about Point Park's Elementary Education program?

My professors were my favorite part of my program at Point Park. They showed that they really care about what they do and want success for their students. I also loved having small class sizes at Point Park because I was able to forge more meaningful relationships with my advisors, professors and peers. 

Why would you recommend Point Park to a prospective student?

I highly recommend Point Park to any prospective student because I had such a positive experience. Being from a very small town, I loved getting to experience city life by living in Downtown Pittsburgh. I also like the size of the school because it allows you to know people by name and see familiar faces around campus. I could tell that all of my professors were very passionate about what they do and wanted to see their students succeed. Point Park also made it possible for me to participate in two different study abroad programs and still graduate on time. 

Pictured is Haley Stephenson. Submitted photo.
Haley Stephenson '21

Haley Stephenson '21

Degree earned from Point Park: B.A. in 4th-8th Grade Education with a Social Studies concentration, History minor
Hometown: Phoenix, Ariz.; Shadow Mountain High School
Dream job: 7th-10th grade social studies teacher 
Hobbies and interests: I read a ton of books, typically three novels a week. I also really enjoy studying history. 

What did you teach at El Castillo, and what did you enjoy about the experience?

I taught the equivalency of 8th grade international baccalaureate social studies, covering the fall of the Roman Empire to the Turks invasion – basically medieval history. The best part about it was teaching students on the continent where these events happened!

How has your study abroad experience impacted you as an aspiring teacher? 

I am a building substitute now for Pittsburgh Public Schools at Pittsburgh Brookline PreK-8. The school in Madrid was a private school, so it is fascinating to see the differences in the city school here compared to the suburban school there. Even before Spain, I completed so many field experiences and observations in public schools that studying abroad just offered more exposure to students with different socioeconomic backgrounds. Teaching in different cultures and backgrounds and states and countries – I don't think I can fully articulate the kind of impact that has on a teacher. It is a rare thing and a unique experience that will help me relate to and bond with students who come from all different kinds of backgrounds.

What are your career goals, and how is Point Park helping you to reach them?

I want to be a social studies teacher. That is the dream. I want to provide a safe space for students and continue having opportunities to travel the world and grow as a person. Most importantly, I'd like to inspire my students to do the same. Point Park provided me with the degree I need to make my dreams a reality.

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