DeKALB – Jillian Markham will spend a month this spring in Sweden, learning while she teaches.
Markham, of DeKalb, was awarded a scholarship from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater for the study-abroad program. She is studying special education with an emphasis in cognitive disability at UWW.
“Students that teach abroad can discover new and effective ways to educate in the classroom,” said Melanie Agnew, the college’s assistant dean. “Developing cross-cultural skills is just something that can’t be done without actually going to experience the different environment firsthand.”
Markham, a 2010 graduate of DeKalb High School, said she chose Sweden because she could pursue her special-education interest there.
“I was interested in learning about the Swedish culture and their school system,” she said. “I think it’s a lot different from ours. I’m excited to learn and see the differences.”
Markham said she will start the semester student-teaching special education classes for kindergarten through third grade in Milton, Wis., then travel to Umea, Sweden, in April. There, she will teach in an elementary school for four weeks before returning to complete her student teaching in Milton. She plans to graduate in May and get a job teaching special education.
“I like to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.
With a population of about 79,000, Umea is the largest city in Norrland and the 12th largest city in Sweden. It is a university town with 39,000 students in two universities, located in the northeastern part of the country on the Ume River. It has been chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2014.
Markham discussed teaching, special education and her upcoming trip with MidWeek reporter Doug Oleson.
MidWeek: How long is the program?
Jillian Markham: It’s for six weeks. I will actually be teaching. I have some time to get there, four weeks in the classroom, then I can travel through the country the last week.
MW: How did you hear about this?
JM: One of my professors is the Swedish exchange coordinator. I have had her for different classes throughout my four years there. We have a really good center for global education. Sweden is one of the programs where you can go and teach. The others are Ecuador, Jamaica and Mexico.
MW: Why did you want to do this?
JM: I wanted to study abroad, but I never really found a program before. This is teaching abroad.
...I chose this because it doesn’t add anything more to my program. It was supposed to be for five years, but I did it in four.
MW: What exactly will you do over there?
JM: I will be teaching special ed or anything they need me to do at an elementary-school level.
MW: Do you think language is going to be a problem?
JM: No, they learn English in school.
MW: Have you ever been out of the county before?
JM: I’ve only been out of the country two other times. I’ve been to Mexico and I took a Paris/London trip my freshman year of high school through DeKalb High School. They offered it every three years. I don’t know if they still do. It was nice.
MW: Was it an involved process?
JM: I had to apply to the center for global education. I just had to fill out an application. Six of us were chosen. We had to have a certain grade-point average. I’m in the Kappa Delta Phi honor society. I got a scholarship from them, too, for applying.
MW: Has anyone else in your family ever done this?
JM: No, I’m the only one.
MW: Do you know the others from your school who are going?
JM: Yes, we’re all going in special education.
MW: Do you think that will help?
JM: It’s kind of cool. We will be in the international dorm, so we can get to meet people from different cultures. They separate us, but we are close enough we can walk.
MW: Do you have any special projects planned for the students?
JM: I’m going to do a pen pal project with my students in Milton, Wis. They’ll write letters to the students in Sweden and they’ll reply.
MW: Why did you choose special ed?
JM: I’m patient, and I’ve had a family person who was handicapped. I have always known I wanted to do that. I like to make differences in people’s lives.
MW: While you’re over there, what do you plan to see?
JM: When I’m done I get a week to travel. I’m looking forward to Italy. I’m excited about that. I’m not really sure what else we’re going to do. We’re still trying to figure out what everyone wants to do. We may backpack through one country.
I’m actually looking forward to seeing their university and going everywhere by bus. They walk everywhere and ride the bus. It’s so different than living here in DeKalb. It’ll be fun to experience all of that on my own.
MW: Any final thoughts?
JM: I am just thankful for the support of everyone, my teachers and family.
I’m excited to share the experience with them afterwards.