ORONO, Maine — Megan Nichols is heading Down Under next month to student-teach in a New Zealand classroom.
The education major is one of the first University of Maine students to participate in a partnership between the College of Education and Human Development and AustraLearn, an Australian nonprofit that places students in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.
The program helps arrange 10-week student teaching placements for elementary and secondary education students, according to a press release issued last month by UMaine.
“We are delighted to offer this formalized experience for student teachers at the University of Maine,” said Karen Boucias, director of the Office of International Programs. “AustraLearn has a proven track record of programs.”
Nichols, 21, of Wiscasset will leave on Feb. 24 for New Zealand and return on May 10, three days after commencement.
“I’ve wanted to study abroad since high school and have never really had the opportunity,” Nichols said in an e-mail. “Once I transferred into the education major, my schedule has been really strict, taking 17 and 18 credits my last two semesters, which left no time for going abroad. Once I heard about student teaching abroad as an option, I jumped on it.”
Nichols, a native of Wiscasset and graduate of Wiscasset High School, started out as a business student at UMaine.
“I really didn’t like the classes or the atmosphere of the business world,” she said. “I took a history class as an elective because I’ve always been interested in history and the humanities.”
The advising, application and pre-departure process is streamlined and efficient, according to Study Abroad adviser Orlina Boteva in the Office of International Programs.
“Students are given a budget from the very beginning and they can work with the Office of Financial Aid on applying their UMaine financial aid package to this program,” she said.
Nichols said that in addition to her UMaine tuition, she will pay a $5,000 program fee to AustraLearn for placement, housing and insurance in New Zealand. She also must pay the cost of her flight and food while she is abroad but has applied for assistance through the program.
Before leaving, Nichols will do some student teaching this month and next at Brunswick Junior High School, but does not yet know where she will be teaching in New Zealand.
“I am most excited about just taking in a whole different culture and living in a completely different and new place,” Nichols said. “Professionally, I think it will be a great opportunity to explore a different education system and see what seems to work well and learn new techniques that I may not have gotten here.”
Pam Kimball, field experience and certification program director at UMaine, said last month that the international aspects of the teaching experience for UMaine students will make them more attractive candidates in the eyes of employers.
“As a former principal who has reviewed many teacher candidate resumes, I valued highly the diverse teaching experiences of the applicants,” she said. “An experience such as student teaching abroad is a ‘value-added’ factor. School populations today vary greatly in all aspects — culturally, socioeconomically and developmentally.”
Nichols said she is hoping her experience Down Under will give her a leg up in landing a teaching job next fall.