For Rebecka Briney, traveling was always a fact of life with her father in the military. The elementary education major even spent four years overseas in England before settling down in Edwardsville, Ill., and once she got to EIU she realized she could further satisfy her self-diagnosed “travel bug” through her academic department and the Office of Study Abroad.
“I went on the Toronto for Teachers program,” said Briney, whose faculty-led trip took place in May 2012. “The first time I studied abroad, I wanted something that would be productive toward my major.”
During the 10-day trip, Briney worked with kindergartners at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School; other participants worked with older children in the same school, while others traveled elsewhere to work with high school-age students. Being one of the world’s most diverse cities, Toronto provided them exposure to cultures they’d likely never encounter stateside.
“The whole program was designed around multicultural diversity in the classroom,” explained Briney. “The school was about 75 percent Filipino, and there was only about a 2 percent Caucasian rate. Throughout the school, there were 150 different languages being spoken. We were able to see how they integrate cultural diversity into the classroom.”
In addition to the enriching experience of teaching in a remarkably diverse atmosphere, Briney and the nine other Eastern students in attendance were treated to a number of lectures and workshops.
“There were a couple authors of children’s books and people who spoke to us about behavior management and classroom techniques,” said Briney. “We have great faculty leaders who picked wonderful workshops for us with some of Toronto’s top educators.”
Between the classroom work and the speakers, it made for some busy days in Toronto, not to mention the assigned work before and after the trip. Briney says it’s no vacation, but also says it was incredibly fulfilling.
“They wanted us to get the most out of it,” said Briney, who completed her senior seminar through the program and also picked up a graduate credit hour. “It was always worthwhile to us. This is our passion, so it never really seemed like work to us. We were doing what we loved: Teaching and learning.
“I’m actually looking at teaching internationally for a couple years after I get done with school, so it can open a lot more outlets for you. You just experience a broader range of classroom techniques. There are things I saw in Toronto that I’d never even heard of here in the U.S.”
And there was still some free time for the participants to experience life the city. Briney spoke fondly of a “faith tour” during which she saw a variety of Toronto’s churches, temples and synagogues and learned about the customs and cultures associated with numerous religions. She and some of her classmates also checked out a downtown mall and the group enjoyed some time at Niagara Falls.
“I feel like once you start traveling, you learn a lot about yourself and what you want in your teaching,” said Briney. “I didn’t realize how much of a global education I want to incorporate in my classroom until I was able to go out into the world and experience some diversity.
“You can also gain much closer relationships with your classmates. We were all in different stages of our education program, but we all still communicate regularly and I’ve also stayed in touch with the faculty leaders. It was such a short trip that none of us were homesick and none of us wanted to leave. We always joke about going back.”
Toronto was something of a stepping stone for Briney, who’ll go to Australia and New Zealand for 35 days this summer and has also been accepted to the COST program. That will send her to Europe for 15 weeks next semester.
“I’m a frequent visitor to the Study Abroad office,” said Briney. “They all know me there. Every time I go in there, they’re like: ‘Where are we going this time?’
“I would just tell people to travel as much as they can. I have no regrets. There are only benefits, as long as you go into it knowing that this is exactly what you want. As long as you know what you want to gain from it, you will.”