By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — With just three weeks of American experiences behind them, the “new and wonderful” wasn’t over quite yet. At this particular moment, “puppy chow” was flooding their senses for the first time.
“You’re going to have to send us the recipe,” said Jordyn Tarr, shoving a couple of pieces of the crispy, chocolatey, sugary concoction in her mouth.
Lori Bird, who had prepared the American treat for the group of seven Brisbane, Australia, students, said she would be glad to if Tarr wasn’t watching her sugar and calorie intake. (Puppy chow isn’t particularly nutrient-rich, and Tarr is a primary education major in health and physical education.)
“Not since I’ve been here,” she said with a laugh.
The teacher-candidate students from QUT University in Brisbane had been student-teaching for three weeks at Rosa Parks Elementary school in Mankato, gaining life experience in a different culture and career experience from new teachers, with new ideas, using a new curriculum.
With their stay in Mankato winding down, three weeks didn’t seem like a lot of time to have learned a great deal. The Brisbane lot begged to differ.
“It’s about being out of your comfort zone, just doing something out of the norm,” said Aleesa Swindlehurst, primary education major. “I’ve loved it.”
Shorter trips, smaller cost
The Australian group — who came to Mankato through a partnership between the College of Education at Minnesota State University and QUT — are part of a growing trend of students taking shorter, several-week study-abroad trips in recent years. Most such trips are organized by individual departments through partnerships and under faculty leadership, where groups of students sign up to go together with professors, said Caryn Lindsay, MSU director of international programs.
In the past decade, the norm of semester- or year-long study-abroad trips has changed significantly, she said. Part of the reason is that many students now have jobs and are paying their own way through college, so they can’t take elongated trips.
The shorter trips are also part of the reason a two-year dip in the number of MSU students choosing to study abroad is rebounding, Lindsay said. During the 2011-12 school year, of the 235 students studying abroad, 162 or 69 percent opted for trips that were 12 weeks or less.
Nationally, the number of students studying abroad has dropped more than 7 percent since the 2008-09 school year when the recession hit, according to a recent study by the Institute of International Education. The number of MSU students studying abroad dropped about 40 percent from a high of 338 students during the 2008-09 school to a seven-year low of 212 during the 2010-11 school year.
Lindsay said the recession made it more difficult for students to afford the extra costs of studying overseas. But last year’s numbers are stronger, with 235 MSU students having studied abroad. (See accompanying chart.)
The shorter trips are more popular for a variety of other reasons, Lindsay said, including cost, which can range from $1,500 to $5,000. Many students still require financial aid to pay for the trips, Lindsay said, including grants and loans. Although scholarships are available to some.
Another reason is that many first-time travelers want to try a shorter international trip first, with the help of a professor who serves as their guide, and then perhaps go on longer semester- or year-long trips afterward.
“I would hope that they’re also understanding the importance of this experience, and to do it during their years at the university is in every way less expensive than if they waited until after (college),” Lindsay said.
With faculty members organizing and planning them, the ease of travel is another reason for the popularity of shorter trips. Lindsay said internship opportunities abroad and exchange programs developed with partner universities provide affordable, unique academic opportunities for students.
“I think the students understand that their world is really changing, that you just look around Mankato and you see people from all over the world here,” Lindsay said. “I think the students are starting to understand they need to know what’s going on outside of Minnesota, and outside of the U.S.”
Plenty of experience
Most MSU students (110, or 47 percent) last year chose study-abroad trips to Europe. Latin America was the second most popular destination, with 36 students studying in the region.
Many study-abroad opportunities are coordinated by specific colleges and departments at MSU. The College of Education, for example, has partnerships in several countries, including Australia.
Lori Bird, director of the Center for Mentoring and Induction in the College of Education, said a group of Australian students comes to MSU once a year, and groups go there each semester.
Bird said this most recent group was a great bunch, and despite just a short stint in the U.S., they said they learned a great deal teaching in kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms.
Swindlehurst said the teaching strategies learned through observation were invaluable. She learned from Rosa Parks teacher Dan Blasl the benefits of turning almost everything into a game, so students are having fun and still learning. For example, a great way to keep the little ones quiet is to play “quiet as a mouse,” challenging each student to be the quietest one in the bunch.
Tarr learned from phy-ed teacher Barb Enderle how to incorporate literacy and numeracy into physical education, creating a richer experience for kids while they’re in the gym.
“Mrs. Enderle is like my ideal. ... The time I was there I didn’t have a single child who said, ‘I don’t want to do that,’” Tarr said.
The little differences between the two cultures were fun to learn, they said. For example, Tarr said she told students to do “star jumps,” and they froze and gave her bewildered looks. Here in the U.S., they’re called jumping jacks, she learned.
QUT student Braedon Reis learned the American term “scoot” after asking the kids to “riggle up” closer to the front of the room and getting no response.
“Even though we all speak English, we don’t realize how many differences there still are,” Bird said.
On the verge of heading home in early December, the students had one more experience on their bucket lists before traveling back to the land down under. And a couple of days before their flight, they got what they asked for and then some.
“Snow,” they all said with smiles on their faces — expressions perhaps not shared by the new Midwestern friends they were leaving behind.