C&I student utilizes College's study abroad opportunities to gain overseas employment

by Belinda Nam   /   Apr 27, 2016

Catherine McKenna

Catherine McKenna assists one of her students during a reading workshop 

Education at Illinois senior Catherine McKenna will become a second-grade teacher at Ayeyarwaddy International School (AIS) in Myanmar starting in August, and she couldn’t be more thrilled to begin her new career.

McKenna’s outlook on the future feels almost surreal because she is following her dreams and doing so outside of the U.S. She is enthusiastic about the undertaking and eager to put into practice the curriculum she learned in the College. She will adjust her lesson plans according to the needs of future students.

“I’m really excited to test my abilities in teaching and go outside of my comfort zone so I can learn from the students and learn what I can bring to the table when I teach them,” she said.

McKenna is curious to discover how her Myanmar experience may broaden her horizons, though this will not be the first time she has taught and learned overseas. During the winter break of 2014 she participated in a study abroad trip to China, where she student taught and expanded her knowledge in Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities.    

The elementary education major said she realized how different education systems can be throughout the world when she visited numerous Chinese schools. McKenna also attended a panel discussion at a university in China where Chinese students asked students in the U.S. questions, and the two cultures of learners interacted and made discoveries.

Overall, the Chinese students’ hard work and dedication toward schoolwork was impressive and piqued McKenna’s interest in wanting to learn more about global education. During her stay, she realized how much a teaching career can impact learners.

“The whole experience made me realize how much there is to offer the world,” she said. “I can not only help those around me, but I can have an impact on people worldwide.”

"I can have an impact on people worldwide."
                            - Catherine McKenna

McKenna attended the Overseas Job Fair at the University of Northern Iowa in February 2016, where she experienced the camaraderie of other students who wanted to work overseas. Meanwhile, the ongoing support, encouragement, and guidance offered by the College of Education helped her feel confident in her decision to accept a job offer in Myanmar this August.

Overseas opportunities continue to increase for Education students. The College offers $500 scholarships for every Education student who wants to study abroad. Additionally, a new class in the College prepares students to live and learn in foreign countries and integrate their experiences in future classrooms.

Dean Mary Kalantzis has set the lofty goal of seeing 100 percent participation by Education students to learn and teach abroad. Allison Witt, director of the Office of International Programs, embraces this aspiration wholeheartedly.  

“Research has shown the tremendous impact of studying abroad on future teachers,” Witt said. “We know, for instance, that student participants overseas enhance their ability to be culturally responsive and gain a host of other benefits that their future students will absorb.”

While pursuing her degree, McKenna’s student teaching experiences in Champaign, Danville, and Northbrook reinforced what she already knew: She loves being around children and knows that teaching is the right path for her.

As for her future, McKenna is keeping her options open but will likely remain an educator.

“In 10 years I see myself in a classroom helping students,” she said. “I hope to have my master’s [degree] by then, but I’m not really sure what direction that [learning will go]. But I still hope to be in a school and helping students better their lives.”