Education at Illinois alumni prepped well for teaching abroad

by Alex Swanson   /   May 14, 2015

College of Education alumna Alyssa Sturgeon, a second-grade teacher in Jakarta, Indonesia

The College of Education at Illinois prepares its graduates to excel in many realms, sometimes developing educators who choose to live and teach overseas. Education alumni regularly teach in diverse fields all over the world, while continuing to implement the lessons they learned in classrooms at Illinois.

Three such alumni are Kirsten Nold ’14 C&I, who teaches English in preschool through sixth grade in Madrid, Spain; Alyssa Sturgeon ’14 C&I, a second-grade teacher who teaches English, math, and science in Jakarta, Indonesia; and upcoming graduate Nathan Chisholm, who has a contract to begin teaching physics in Shanghai this coming year.

Though there is a definite sense of adventure, the experience of leaving one’s homeland can also be an anxiety-filled endeavor. Teaching in a country with cultural differences may feel intimidating at first, but it’s also a hugely exciting opportunity. Nold, Sturgeon, and Chisholm recognize the value and importance of expanding their worlds.

“I am fascinated by the differences as well as similarities of different countries and cultures,” said Chisholm. “I love the United States, but I think it is important [to] understand that a vast majority of the people in the world live significantly [differently] than us.” 

Nold added that educators can learn from the successes of other countries.

“These discoveries can help us to improve our teaching practice and the overall success of our country’s students,” she said.

Teaching and learning abroad compels students to immerse themselves in a new culture, to navigate another education system, and to begin thinking in a global sense. Jay Mann, director of School and Community Experiences, said the College is committed to preparing highly qualified educators who are ready to assume teacher leadership roles, regardless of where they teach.

“Our students leave us with a strong vision for progressive and empowering educational experiences for all children, and they are ready to enact that vision both at home and abroad,” he said.

Students of the College are encouraged to take advantage of international programs that take place in locations such as China, Italy, Argentina, Australia, and Spain.

To promote global education, the College awards all students in good standing a $500 scholarship for any Illinois-sponsored study abroad program, which occur in the summer, the winter, and spring break so as not to disrupt students’ degree progress. While abroad, students of the College work directly with local students through observations and hands-on teaching.

The efforts of the College to encourage students to learn and teach abroad are appreciated.

“The most helpful thing the College of Education did to help me prepare was to give me the opportunity to go out and get experience while still in school,” said Chisholm.

Nold, Sturgeon, and Chisholm all taught in China as undergraduates of the College. Chisholm said that the contacts he formed on the China trip allowed him to find his job abroad. Sturgeon similarly credited her trip to China with the life-changing decision to pursue a career overseas.

“It sparked my interest to seek out teaching opportunities abroad after graduation,” she said.   

While teaching in Indonesia, Sturgeon recalled and still utilizes the lessons she learned at Illinois.

“The College of Education prepared me to teach abroad by giving me strategies for English- language learners,” said Sturgeon. “The courses also emphasized culturally relevant teaching. Both of these are very important in my classroom here.”

Teaching and learning abroad is just one of the many ways the College has in place to create capable and culturally literate educators. Sturgeon said anyone with a passion for education and traveling should consider going abroad.

For Nold, the experience was incomparable.

“Teaching abroad … has been the most life-changing, eye-opening experience of my life.”


Learn more
 about the College’s study abroad programs.