Melissa McLain and Sarah Hubbard

Seniors Melissa McLain and Sarah Hubbard spent a month last summer in Klaipeda, Lithuania, teaching English to students from 15 to 35 years-old. Both McLain and Hubbard are English Education majors at John Brown University, specializing in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages  (TESOL).

The internship is part of the global studies program offered through the College of Education and Human Services in partnership with the Lithuania Christian College International University.

McLain and Hubbard taught Elementary Conversation I, Elementary Conversation II, and Intermediate Reading to classes of ten to fifteen students each.  The people of Lithuania speak Lithuanian and Russian, but many want to add English as a third language to help them compete in the global market.

Both girls agreed that the hardest part of teaching was the language barrier as neither of them knew Lithuanian or Russian. They didn’t have a translator to help them communicate to their students.

“The hardest part was when we would be explaining a new activity and we would use hand motions, write on the board and talk really slow, and we would still get blank stares,” said McLain.

Hubbard added, “It was really hard at that lower level when they don't have a lot of those filler words that we use all the time that don't mean anything to them. Things like make, do, through, though, or okay; and that's all just going over their heads.”

Hubbard had a breakthrough with the students when encouraged them to not focus on getting the language perfect, but rather to embrace the essence of communication.

Both Hubbard and McLain felt well prepared for the experience because of the embedded experience they received in partnership with the Siloam Springs School District. Starting freshmen year, students in JBU’s education program observe teachers in local schools to gain experience and real world techniques for handling classroom nuances. Students also participate in classroom environments related to their emphasis of early childhood education, secondary education, math education or TESOL.

“I know I still have a lot to learn,” said McLain. “But my time in the high school classrooms really prepared me for those awkward moments when students aren’t listening or when something happens and you have to respond professionally.”

“My TESOL classes are really practical and were very helpful as I remembered the things I’ve learned in those classes and could use them,” said Hubbard. “We get a lot of strategies to use in different settings. That’s how you learn — being in a classroom — and the more experience you get in a classroom the better prepared you are.”

McLain said she learned a lot about how to prepare for situations outside of her lesson plan and to think about the best way for her students to learn. The two also learned how to co-teach and work together.

“We came at it from different angles,” said Hubbard. “We worked really well together in the classroom and learned how to teach with someone else and rely on them.”

“I gave Melissa and Sarah the arduous task of teaching a conversation class for elementary level students and a reading class for intermediate level students on their own. Usually, I reserve this task for more experienced teachers or a team of three people,” said Robin Gingerich, English department chair at LCC International University. “Melissa and Sarah 'stepped up to the plate' and did a nice job of planning the curriculum and managing the classroom. They were extremely conscientious and dedicated.”

McLain was one of two students to receive the Global Learning Scholarship from JBU’s department of education this year. “I really wanted to go but couldn’t afford it,” she said. “Summer is the time I work, so not only would it be time not earning money but a lot of money I would be spending.”  The $1,000 scholarship goes to students participating in international teaching and learning programs.

Outside of teaching, the girls visited the Baltic Sea beach, went shopping downtown and went on sightseeing expeditions with their supervisor Dr. Klotz on the weekends. The people of Lithuania weren’t as friendly as McLain and Hubbard thought they would be. “I think Americans have a lot of shallow relationships,” said McLain. “We have deep ones too, but we’re okay with having a lot of friends. There they stick with just a few friends and have those deeper relationships, and they’re not very welcoming to outsiders. I didn’t expect that to be so hard, but luckily by the end of it I did have friends.”

Hubbard said it was hard to break through as the authority figure, especially with the older students. But she did connect with some of the adults and Facebook allows them to continue the friendship as well as help the students practice their English.

McLain and Hubbard both plan on pursuing a teaching career overseas after graduating in the spring.

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