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Muskingum College student teaches abroad and broadens horizons
By Kimi Heskett '05, Public Relations intern

MARCH 24, 2004 - Muskingum College student Kurenn Sisler '04 is spending time this semester in New Zealand to complete her student teaching obligations as an education major. The Lucasville, Ohio native is in Porirua, New Zealand and has been since early January, working with Aotea College (which is actually a high school). She will return late in April.

Her teaching assignments have proved to be challenging, yet rewarding. "My lessons are going particularly well. I enjoy myself immensely, especially when I see my students lean in towards me, their eyes glowing with interest," she said in emails back to Muskingum.

Sisler said the school focuses on respect and responsibility. The high school emphasizes to the students that they should make the best of their high school years by becoming involved in as much as possible.

Not only does Sisler feel it is her duty to teach her students, but to entertain them. "The poor kids have to sit and listen the entire school day. During the times I instruct, I want to keep things as interesting as I can," she said.

Aotea College consists of about 900 students aging from 12 to 18. Unlike the U.S., high schools in New Zealand are referred to as colleges. Similar to the U.S., New Zealand has a classification system which describes the school according to its size and general socioeconomic status of the area which the school is located. A D10 school, for example, is in the highest on the socioeconomic status spectrum. Aotea College is classified as D2, so the school is situated in an area of low socioeconomic status.

A world away from U.S. schools in its methods, Aotea doesn't use any textbooks. Each student brings their own notebook for each subject. Handwriting is taught with a college-rule notebook and math is done with graph paper. Also, the alphabet is not displayed. Perhaps most strangely, the students are not allowed to have erasers. "I like the idea of not having erasers, because I've found that when kids do have erasers, they spend the entire time erasing," Sisler said.

Sisler has learned a great deal both in and out of school, including the local favorite dish, pumpkin soup. "Can you believe they have pumpkin soup here? Do we have that in the U.S.? It has to be so nasty," she said in email correspondence back to Muskingum. Sisler's host, Anne, frequently makes it and Sisler knows that she will probably be having it soon.," she said.

Far outside of the classroom, Tongario National Park in Tuapo and its three active volcanoes are some of the sights Sisler has enjoyed on the weekends. "When I was atop the mountain, there were times when I felt as if I were on a different planet. I've never seen anything like it," she said.

Not only did Sisler just enjoy the sights, she also bungee-jumped off of a 260-foot bridge. "Whenever I reached the jump-off point, I was shaking violently. In the past I could never imagine myself strapping a cord to my feet and diving headfirst to the ground. But I did it, and, oh, what an experience," she said, along with the fact that she was quite proud of herself.

As amazing as Sisler's experience is proving to be, she said she is actually very homesick. "I've learned a few valuable things about dealing with my homesickness. I've learned that it is definitely true that one can be in the most amazing and beautiful place in the world and doing truly wonderful things but still feel a sense of loneliness and loss because they aren't spending it with someone they love. Experiences aren't places or adventures, they're about people, and the people you experience them with," she said.

Sisler is glad she came but is always aware of how many days are left until she comes home. "Tell those Muskies to never take the familiarity of those hills and all the familiar faces for granted," she said.
Also teaching and traveling in New Zealand are senior educations majors Sarah Wooding of Austinburg, Ohio and Amanda Harrington of Orrville, Ohio.