Teaching in the Land Down Under: ISU student teacher explores Australia

October 16 2008

By her senior year in college, Cate Walsh thought an opportunity for something she dreamed of doing had passed her by.

"Studying abroad was something that I always thought that I would do in college and then once I got to my last year, I just didn't think it was possible anymore," said the August 2008 Indiana State University education graduate. "When this opportunity came, I had to jump on it and I'm so glad I did."

Seizing that opportunity took Walsh to Australia where she spent 10 weeks student teaching and exploring the Land Down Under. Walsh was ISU's first student to take advantage of the opportunity to conduct her student teaching abroad.

"I love to travel and I just thought it was such a neat way to finish up school and get to actually not just visit a country, but actually live there and just take in the whole experience," she said.

Indiana State partnered with Indiana University's Cultural Immersions Project to open international teaching experiences to its students.

"A couple of years ago in a conversation with a metropolitan school district superintendent in the Indianapolis area, the superintendent indicated there were over 30 foreign languages spoken in that one district alone," Brad Balch, College of Education dean, said. "I realized that our schools in Indiana are truly globalizing. When you look at the current standards for teachers, inter-cultural opportunities are extremely important. We know of no better way for them to accomplish those standards than to see life, see the teaching and learning life, through the eyes of others internationally."

Walsh, who was finishing her teaching degree in physical education, said the Australian curriculum and class sizes were comparable to the United States.

"With P.E. there were quite a few differences because they have different things like netball and rugby, games that I've never seen and obviously never played, so in that sense, they had new things to offer and so did I," she said. "They taught me the Nutbush, which is our equivalent to the Electric Slide and they had never heard of the Electric Slide. I also taught the Cha-Cha Slide and that was a big favorite."

She also learned about rugby through the family that she stayed with in Australia.

"The father that I lived with was a professional rugby player about eight years ago and so he was just all about teaching me," she said.

She also enjoyed differences in school schedules between Australia and the United States.

"Australians for the most part, are really laid back and they start their elementary school at 10 til 9," she said. "Every morning we'd get together and have a cuppa, a cup of tea, and then they'd have a fruit break. Ever morning at 10 o'clock, whatever you were doing, if you were doing a math lesson, you would stop and go get your piece of fruit and have a little fruit break."

Walsh was placed with the Australian family for her stay. The mother worked as a secretary at the school and the four daughters attended the school where Walsh was a student teacher.

"From the very beginning we just kind of clicked and it seemed pretty easy," she said. "They picked me up from the airport and they had a sign that said ?Welcome to Australia Cate.' They were so excited to show me their country and all the sights. They were really proud that I picked to go there and visit Australia."

Living with a family also allowed for culinary exchanges. For Walsh that included trying Vegemite, a paste made from yeast extract.

"It's like this black spread like we would put butter on toast. They put Vegemite on bread and they make soups out of it if you're sick," she said. "I was sick when I was over there and I thought, ?Oh my gosh, I hope they don't stick Vegemite down my throat.' It's really, really bad."

Walsh introduced them to pumpkin pie.

"They use pumpkin in their main courses, so they would have it on pizza or as pumpkin soup. When I said we usually have it as a dessert that just like blew their minds. They don't consider that a sweet food," she said. "So when I made it for them, it was kind of half and half. Half thought it was good and half just couldn't really get over the fact for pumpkin as dessert."

While staying in Australia, Walsh took dance lessons from the Sydney Dance Company.

"I took some really interesting classes, ones that I had taken before, like ballet and jazz, but then I also tried some contemporary, even a popping class," she said. "That was very different and fun to kind of let loose and experience."

She also competed in a 14-kilometer race.

"There was a race called 'The City to Surf' and it started in the city of Sydney and then you ran out to Bondi Beach," she said. "It was pretty rough. Over half of it was uphill. Most days, I'd get home from school and then go for a run on the beach or by the lake. I got through the race and ended at Bondi Beach and everybody jumped in the ocean and cooled down."

As it was winter in Australia during Walsh's stay, the students and teachers had a two week break. Walsh's parents came for a visit during that time and the family traveled to Cairns to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef.

"We also took a semi-submersible boat so you could just look out the window right next to you and see these huge fish and all the beautiful colors," she said.

They also traveled to Darwin to see some of the Australian bush country.

"We took some alligator and crocodile cruises and saw those nice and up close, a little too up close for me," Walsh said with a laugh.

In Melvin, they finally saw kangaroos and koalas.

"We got to pet and feed the kangaroos and see the koalas up in the trees," she said. "I saw one had a little baby in its pouch, so that was neat."

From the experiences in the classroom to exploring Australia, Walsh said those experiences helped her personally and professionally.

"I think I definitely grew as a person and got a lot more confidence," she said. "I've lived in Terre Haute my whole life and then also going to school here, so it was just getting out and experiencing something new."

It is such experiences that Balch wants more future teachers to undergo.

"We have an experiential teaching focus and to be able to experience a teaching and learning life internationally can only inform one's work," he said. "To help encourage that, we've set aside some scholarship funds through the dean's office. We'll be able to sponsor in part at least two students annually and we hope that will encourage others."

For more information on the cultural immersion experience, visit: Cultural Immersion Project

To learn more about Walsh's time in Australia, visit her blog at: http://blogs.indstate.edu/~wpmu/cate/about/

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Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or jsicking@indstate.edu

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/390306107_baeti-D.jpg

Cutline: Cate Walsh feeds a kangaroo while living in Australia.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/390306145_KCCiG-D.jpg

Cutline: Cate Walsh teaches a physical education class at Sacred Heart Mona Vale in Australia where she did her student teaching.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/390306166_82uQP-D.jpg

Cutline: Cate Walsh poses on Bondi Beach in Australia after completing a 14-kilometer race from Sydney to the beach.

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Story Highlights

Cate Walsh journeyed to Australia where she spent 10 weeks student teaching and exploring the Land Down Under

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