EMU students savor rich teaching and cultural experiences in study abroad program in Montenegro

Written by Geoff Larcom / EMU

YPSILANTI – Eastern Michigan University continues to expand study abroad opportunities for its students, powered by the deep understanding of how such experiences develop a student intellectually, emotionally and in preparing one to be a contributing World citizen.

Among the various Eastern programs this summer is the study abroad opportunity in TESOL (Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages). The program, under the guidance of Professor Zuzana Tomaš, is in its second year in Montenegro, a country in southeast Europe and located on the Adriatic Sea.

Tomaš is excited about the developments and connections made over the last two summers. Following are two stories of student success in the program.

Alumna helps build Montenegro program

Silvija Marniković first came to Eastern for one semester as an exchange teacher through the Fulbright Scholar program.

“She loved it so much that she came back to do her full master’s degree in TESOL,” Tomaš says. “She was one of our best students – in a year and a half, she was able to do a thesis, had a strong GPA, presented at an international conference and was involved in various service opportunities.”

Marniković, who is from Montenegro, then helped Tomaš co-establish and co-direct the program, which pairs future American teachers doing undergraduate studies or current teachers enrolled in Eastern’s graduate program with more than 100 English learners in a small disadvantaged school in Montenegro.

“Silvija gets a small stipend for helping out on the ground,” Tomaš notes, but adds, “It does not even come close to what she deserves. She is with our teachers or available around the school for help 14 hours a day, working tirelessly to make this a positive experience for everyone.  She is a truly outstanding professional and human.”

Marniković, expressed her excitement at watching the elementary school in Montenegro – where she taught her first lesson – and EMU united in the mission of empowering teachers, English learners and cross-cultural communication.

“Watching the Montenegrin students and their U.S. teachers parting in tears, I realized how much we can all learn from each other and help each of us soar higher once we see diversity as a strength, decide to embrace opportunities, and extend them using our creative energy,” she said.

But it also takes a bit of luck, Marniković said. “I’ve met some exceptional people who I’ve shared this whole experience with.”

She said that includes Tomaš, “a great person, a visionary, a hardworking professional, a leader, and a motivator, along with all those dedicated Michigan teachers, some of them my EMU cohorts, and the local community in Ulcinj, Montenegro, the school’s principal and its staff.” 

EMU student makes the most of an international internship

Katie Ebersol, Amie Van Horn-Gabel and Jill McDonald
Katie Ebersole, right, and her mentors Amie VanHorn Gabel and Jill McDonald in Montenegro.

Tomaš also cited Katie Ebersole, an Honors College undergraduate involved in this year’s study abroad program.

Ebersole is using the experience as a teaching internship, so she also got to spend a week in a US-Embassy sponsored Access camp for 45 disadvantaged high school students. The English Access Microscholarship Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State through the U.S. Embassy Podgorica and is implemented by the English Language Teachers’ Association of Montenegro (ELTAM).

At the Access camp, Ebersole worked closely with two experienced K-12 teachers from Eastern and several Montenegrin teachers of English to produce a highly positive experience for the kids.

“Before arriving in Montenegro, the directors told the American teachers that the Access camp theme was ‘Thinking Critically and Creatively,’ so I prepared workshops on figurative language to fit this theme,” Ebersole said. “Throughout the week, we (American teachers) worked on a Kindness Rock Project with the students, where they explored ways their actions (affect) the communities and world around us and how they can make an impact through the Kindness Rock Project. The students wrote kind messages on these rocks and distributed them in different places and to others at the camp.”

The teachers at the camp ate breakfast and lunch with the students, and Ebersole learned about Montenegrin traditions and culture. “The students blossomed through this experience because they had not spoken much to a native English speaker before,” Ebersole said.

In addition, each teacher prepared a workshop for the program. Ebersole did an “escape room” workshop, where the students had to complete puzzles and use problem solving with the figurative language they had learned in English. “The students were ecstatic when they incorporated their English skills with puzzles and games,” Ebersole said.

Jill McDonald and Amie VanHorn Gabel, the two K-12 teachers and graduate students at EMU who mentored Ebersole in the Access Camp, commented on the impact “the baby teacher” (as students and other teachers jokingly called her) had on the kids.

Ebersole spent her second week in the program helping out in grades 1-2 as part of the regular EMU study abroad program. She went to the Marko Nuculović Primary School in Ulcinj to help teach the first grade class.

“(At first) only a few students knew how to speak English and by the end of the program the students knew their colors, greetings and emotions in English,” Ebersole said “I helped the students rehearse for their “How are you today?” performance at the end of the program, where they sang and dance or acted out emotions.”

As part of the trip, she was also able to attend the first International Conference for English teachers in Montenegro. 

An exceptional experience to finish her undergraduate career

Ebersole said she could not have asked for a better study abroad experience as she finished her undergraduate career at Eastern Michigan.

“I am excited to see where this program takes others in the future, because this program has given me valuable experiences to take with me in my TESOL career,” she said. “I am touched and honored to have been given the chance to witness the growth of students from all over Montenegro in just the span of two weeks.”

Gabel said that Ebersole took full advantage of all the opportunities.

“Although I was acting as Katie’s mentor, she had so many keen insights and creative ideas during our lesson planning sessions that it truly felt more like a partnership,” Gabel said. “Having taught and traveled together for two weeks, what started out as a mentorship has ended in friendship ­ – just another benefit that study abroad brings.

“It was clear that her TESOL coursework at EMU had thoroughly prepared her for this internship, and yet I can’t imagine another internship that would prepare her so well for a career in teaching. Katie was exposed in two weeks to what most educators wouldn’t experience in two years.

“Katie’s time in Montenegro is the ultimate culmination of her EMU coursework – she attended an international conference, observed both Montenegrin and American teachers plan and present various lessons, created and led her own workshops, engaged with both high school students and young learners, and immersed herself in a culture different than her own.  She even roomed with a Fulbright fellow and met the U.S. Ambassador twice. EMU has truly prepared her for a career in TESOL.”

The TESOL Programs at Eastern Michigan University are housed under the Department of World Languages. In addition to the new undergraduate BA in TESOL, students can also elect a minor in TESOL, as well as a Master’s program or certificate with specialization in international teaching, K-12, or elementary/secondary education.

See the Study Abroad website for information about other such programs at Eastern.

For more information on TESOL, please contact the program advisor, Professor Ildiko Porter-Szucs, at iporters@emich.edu or 734.487.6487.  

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 18,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University’s Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University’s website.