Washington State’s metropolitan area school districts enroll students from more than 98 countries, and more than 120 languages are spoken in these schools. As the state’s top producer of teachers, Central Washington University is committed to making sure that its up-and-coming educators can offer cross-cultural understanding.
Eight senior Central education students spent fall term on a teacher education practicum in Macau. It’s the third time a group of university students has had the first-hand international experiences in the special administrative region of China, which has a population of about 600,000.
“There’s a lot of English spoken in Macau,” said Judy Backlund, CWU literacy education professor, who oversees the exchange program. “Our students teach in English and the school is run in English. So, it’s an interesting way of getting our students introduced into the culture without total immersion. It gives them a chance to use their native language in a foreign environment.”
Macau, which was a part of Portugal until 1999, operates a somewhat different educational system than in the United States, particularly the structure of its curriculum. However, the school welcomes more Western options, which provides CWU students with the opportunity to blend curriculums.
“So they have the benefit of understanding two different educational systems, working with two different kinds of students, and two different kinds of teachers,” Backlund added. “After their experience, we expect they should be able to step into a situation here, where there are a lot of intercultural students in the classroom, and handle it pretty well.”
Pre-service practicum in a foreign country, followed by student teaching in United States, will make these students even more employable upon graduation, Backlund pointed out.
Six of the CWU students worked with Macau elementary students, some as young as three years old, while the other two worked with high school pupils. They also presented workshops to the Macau teachers on educational practices in the United States.
“Macau educators, and the Chinese for that matter, are highly interested in getting native-language English speakers to their classes,” Backlund noted, “because they believe it’s the best way for their students to learn English and for the Macau teachers to learn new and different strategies and approaches.”
One of the CWU participants, Amanda Coutts, from Puyallup, says, “I had a lot of conversations with my [Macau] teacher about the differences in schools. She was from mainland China and would ask for my input and wanted to know how things were done in America.”
For their work in Macau, Hou Kong School reimbursed the CWU students half their airfare, provided them with $500 monthly for expenses, and allowed them to live in a school-provided apartment in “a nice, safe, and very comfortable neighborhood; so they’re also getting the experience of living in a Chinese community,” Backlund explained.
Many of the CWU students also took advantage of travel opportunities to Beijing and Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, and other destinations across southeast Asia, including the Great Wall of China. Some also went to the Chinese-television version of the talent competition, “The Voice.”
Eight CWU students, including three from CWU’s western Washington campuses, will comprise a fourth group that will head to Macau next spring. CWU graduate Andrew Wang, from Issaquah, who went to Macau during fall 2012, is now employed full-time as a teacher there.
Photo: CWU students and Hau Kong Premier School administrators during a special ceremony as the CWU students were finishing their time in Macau.