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College of Health and Human Sciences

Education Abroad: Early Childhood Education in Paraguay

Monday, August 6, 2018

By Brynn Carlson

This May, while most students were at home on break after spring finals, four K-State Human Ecology students had the opportunity to participate in the first ever Early Childhood Education study abroad trip to Asunción, Paraguay. Lead by Dr. Bronwyn Fees, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Family Studies and Human Services, and Beka Meitler, an instructor in the School of Family Studies and Human Services in Early Childhood Education, the trip gave students a chance to get a glimpse into early childhood education systems in another country as well as earn two or three credits. According to Dr. Fees, the trip gave students an opportunity to “experience early care and education in another culture, which allows them to understand not only that culture, but just as importantly, their own culture and their own practices.”

In preparation for the May 15-25 trip, Meitler and Dr. Fees taught an 8-week long spring 2018 course introducing the students to key topics and relevant information they would need to use when traveling to Paraguay. During the course, each student wrote and illustrated their own children’s book in both English and Spanish, which gave them the opportunity to connect with the students and teachers that they shared the books with in Paraguay. In addition, the class also hosted a suitcase book drive, which resulted in the group bringing two suitcases of books for children and two

suitcases of teaching resources to Paraguay to distribute at the teaching institute. While in country, the students got a chance to fully immerse themselves in the Paraguayan culture, improve their Spanish skills and learn the structure of family life by staying with host families. Staying with the families was one of the highlights of the trip for the students, and many of them remain in communication with their host families today. According to Meitler, “Part of the reason that we really wanted our students to have that experience, staying with host families, is to understand the relationships between members of that really intimate family system but also how the family’s function within that culture.” For Ashley Pringle, a sophomore studying communication sciences and disorders, staying with the host families was the highlight of the trip. According to Pringle, “that cultural experience of getting to be in the home, getting to make meals with them, learning about their lifestyle and what they do day by day was really neat.”

Each day, the students would get an opportunity to experience the systems of early childhood education in unique ways. During the 10 days they spent in Paraguay, the students saw the disparities in funding and technology between the public and private sectors of education and that, according to Meitler, “…child development is child development. Children of all cultures and all parts of the globe still progress along the developmental trajectory in a similar way.”  They spent time in a program that that targeted children with developmental delays, got to visit and learn from an educational psychologist, met with a member of the national committee for educational reform, and had the opportunity to give presentations to fellow human ecology students at UNA, the national university in Asunción. Additionally, they were able to put their knowledge of early childhood teaching practices into action while working in a bilingual early childhood program that is run by a Human Ecology alumnus who previously attended K-State as a Paraguayan graduate exchange student. When the students were not visiting early care settings, they were able to experience the Paraguayan way of life and culture through activities such as shopping the local markets for leather, textiles, food, and pottery, taking a countryside tour, hiking the Yaguarón Hill and visiting the largest church in Caacupé.

This study abroad experience allowed students to make cultural connections and form bonds in Paraguay that will last a lifetime. According to Meitler “They [the people of Paraguay] are very much like Kansans. They are very warm, they are very welcoming, and they want to share many aspects of their culture with you.” Pringle agreed, saying “I would highly encourage anyone who was thinking about it [studying abroad] to do it. If they’re hesitant to study abroad and maybe haven’t been out of the country like myself, the community in Paraguay really wants other people to come and understand their culture… these are memories I won’t forget.” Overall, this trip opened the eyes of the students to an advanced global understanding of early childhood education practices, summarized perfectly by Dr. Fees when she said, “this immersion experience, even though it was brief, was an opportunity to…hopefully heighten their cultural awareness and developed their intercultural competency.”

For more information on how to get involved in education abroad opportunities at K-State, please visit www.k-state.edu/abroad

This article was posted on Monday, August 6, 2018, and is filed under Applied Human Sciences, College News.