Students and faculty question proposed study abroad mandate

Involvement in the Peace Corps or hosting refugees could possibly count toward the requirement.

by Beth Hornby

Education and foreign language students have mixed feelings about a bill that would require all future Minnesota K-12 foreign language teachers to study abroad for one year.

The bill’s author, Rep. Mike Jaros, DFL-St. Paul, said he introduced the bill because teachers need to be culturally aware of the languages they teach.

“I see a lack of preparedness in foreign language teachers because it is impossible to simulate culture in a classroom setting,” Jaros said.

But some students in the College of Education and Human Development said spending a year in a foreign country is unnecessary.

“I think as language teachers we should have significant cultural experience in the language we’re studying; however, it is not always necessary to leave the country,” education student Sara MacDonald said. “For example, if there is a native-speaking community within our borders that we can experience from day to day, that should be acceptable.”

Jaros said experiences such as involvement in a U.S. ethnic community, the Peace Corps or hosting refugees could potentially count for the requirement, but there are no exceptions in the bill.

Other students said they feared the requirement might keep people who cannot afford study abroad from pursuing an education program.

“It would add economic barriers that some of us could not handle,” education student Erica Schatzlein said.

Education academic adviser Lori Cohen said the bill would raise access issues.

“We might lose those valuable potential teachers who come from low-income urban areas,” Cohen said.

Education professor Martha Bigelow also said the requirement is largely unnecessary because most of her students already study abroad.

“We don’t need a bill to enforce cultural understanding because we already have our own measurements in the application process,” Bigelow said. “Almost all of our students have either studied abroad, served in the Peace Corps, traveled for missionary work or hosted refugees.”

Cohen said more than 75 percent of foreign language education students have lived abroad.

Jaros said the Senate has not discussed the bill yet, but he hopes Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, will place it on the agenda for its next meeting.

Pappas said the proposal is a good way to “get the idea out,” but she said it would be difficult to mandate study abroad.

“In theory, it is a good idea, but in practice it may not be affordable for some students,” Pappas said.