Angela Holstedt and Carrie Sorensen took part in the 25-day trip to India.
A BVU travel-course to the Lebenshilfe school in Vishakhapatnam, India, came about through the efforts of Dr. Robbie Ludy, professor of special education, who through her involvement in the International Association of Special Education is a friend of Saraswathi (Sarah) Devi, the founder of the school. Ludy and other BVU professors also visited the school in 2007 on a trip funded by the McCorkle Fellows program, a BVU faculty development initiative.
Ludy and Ellen Holmgren, assistant professor of social work, co-led the 25-day January trip which gave BVU students an in-depth opportunity to work alongside the Lebenshilfe teachers with the special needs students and their families.
Ludy says it was a “one-of-a-kind” experience for the BVU students. “We ‘lived’ this experience as active participants, rather than as visitors or observers. We lived at an institution located within a slum setting, actively participated as family members in cultural activities, were actively involved in religious activities and connected one-on-one with people. We ate, breathed and lived as (honored) Indians.”
Among the BVU students on the trip were Carrie Sorensen, a junior social work major from Ringsted, and Angela Holstedt, a senior elementary education major with a special education endorsement from Big Spring, Texas.
“I went to India expecting to teach children with special needs, but I never imagined I would learn as much or more,” says Angela.
“Being immersed in the culture was one of the best parts of the trip for me,” explains Angela. “Every day was a learning experience. I very easily could have completed my supervised participation in Iowa and met the requirements of the course. However, completing it in India allowed me to learn innumerable things about myself, about the education that I value and about the world that I live in. The cultural immersion made it personal.”
“The experience has made me look at the world differently,” says Carrie. “Compared to many people, I feel very privileged. I have enough food, clothing, health care and I always have a bed and a roof over my head. I saw many people who have nothing and suffer from horrible medical conditions that have been eradicated in the U.S.”
“Most memorable to me was seeing the excitement and huge smiles on the faces of the children when they were working on something and got it right,” says Carrie, who plans on pursuing a career that involves helping underprivileged people.
The BVU students were able to interact with a broader variety of students than would typically be in a single classroom setting in the U.S., notes Ludy. They saw and participated in a variety of therapies and observed educational techniques not generally seen in American classrooms.
Having education and social work majors engaging in field experiences side-by-side also has advantages because during their professional careers they will often interact in real-world situations, says Holmgren. “Our students will benefit by better understanding the different roles of each of their disciplines and how each contributes to student learning and well-being,” she explains. “I believe that our students’ views have been broadened beyond their own professional lenses.”
“It is very unusual to have this cross-disciplinary approach to field experiences, despite the fact that this reflects the approach utilized more and more in elementary and secondary schools in the United States,” adds Ludy. “This was an excellent opportunity for our students to cross-train.”
“Education and social work majors are in the people business and this experience allowed everyone to see the importance of making personal connections, building rapport and finding common ground to enhance teamwork for children’s success in educational settings,” says Ludy.
Ludy and Holmgren are now planning a January 2013 interim trip to Tanzania for education and social work majors, and other interested students, to work in a variety of school settings.