By Ali Houghton
With an adios to America, Rider student Adrienne Straley spent part of her summer abroad in the beautiful, exotic country of Spain.
Straley, a junior elementary education major, participated in a program for special education majors and minors which was developed by Dr. Dianne Casale-Giannolla, an education professor at Rider, and Dr. Michele Wilson Kamens, director of the special education program.
“My first reaction upon getting off of the plane in Spain was, ‘Bring me some tapas,’” she said. “I was so excited to throw myself into the culture of the country and learn from the locals what Spain is really about.My second reaction was ‘Where is my bed?’ because everyone was awake for at least 24 hours. Eight-hour plane rides plus the time difference called for extreme jetlag.”
Straley and her fellow classmates took a class with Giannolla and Kamens in which they toured five different schools to observe the special education programs in the mornings. They also met up to discuss what they experienced almost every night.
This opportunity allowed them to gain new understanding about their special education studies.
“Because they become foreigners in another country, students report that they have learned what it means to be a minority or have a disability from a travel-abroad experience, first hand.” Gianolla said. “This helps them become more sympathetic.”
After adjusting to the time change and different culture, the students on the trip began to open their eyes to the life-changing experiences. Straley said study abroad gave her a global perspective that will not only affect her in her daily life, but also in the classroom. Straley noticed some unique aspects of the Spanish schools, such as heavy incorporation of art and music into learning and adults displaying more affection toward students by hugging them.
“The travel-abroad experience gave me more insight,” Straley said. “It allowed me to compare and contrast what is done in American schools versus what is done in Spanish schools.”
Straley felt that American school systems could learn from the teaching styles used for special education in the Spanish school system.
“After this trip, I feel I can see education from more angles than I was able to before,” Straley said. “Education isn’t cut and paste. You have to weave in your own ideas and use your students’ abilities to their advantage. Especially in special education, each child is different and has specific needs that need to be met. Visiting schools showed me that these needs don’t have to be met one specific way. Broad ranges of activities are used in Spain that teachers in America can incorporate.”
Both Straley and Gianolla agreed traveling abroad is an amazing opportunity and an important experience for college students. Traveling abroad gives one an outlook on life he or she may never receive from any other type of learning, they said.
“The outcome of our experience in Spain was that students and faculty both learned about themselves,” Gianolla said. “Studying abroad forces you to look inside of yourself and discover who you are.”
Straley’s time in Spain only increased her appetite for travel. After her time abroad, she is interested in pursuing an opportunity to student-teach abroad and to travel as much as she can to a variety of locations.
“Spain, and studying abroad overall, is an eye-opening experience,” Straley said. “You meet all different kinds of people. Some behave like Americans, and some are rich in their own culture. I thought I would be lost in a different country, but the locals and the family I lived with made me feel like I belonged there.”
Printed in the 10/9/13 edition.