First UTeach Study Abroad Program Takes Students to England

UTeach study abroad Image by Sumudu Lewis
UTeach students pose next to an iconic red telephone box in Arundel, England.

By Brooke Coupal

As 14-year-olds went over organic chemistry concepts at a secondary school in Brighton, England, STEM majors in UMass Lowell’s undergraduate teacher preparation program, UTeach, sat “gobsmacked.”

“They were just sitting with their mouths wide open,” UTeach Director Sumudu Lewis says. “Gobsmacked (meaning “astounded”) is the British word for it.”

Students in the United States typically aren’t introduced to organic chemistry until college. This is just one of the many educational differences that 10 UMass Lowell students noticed during the first UTeach study abroad program, which ran for two weeks in mid-May.

“It’s amazing to see how different the educational system is from the U.S.,” says Meriem Elkoudi, an honors computer science and mathematics major with a UTeach minor.

UTeach study abroad Nhuy and Meriem Image by Sumudu Lewis
Nhuy Phan and Meriem Elkoudi work on an assignment at the University of Sussex.

The idea for a UTeach study abroad experience came to Lewis as she taught Knowing and Learning in Math and Science. One course assignment required students to connect with a teacher outside the U.S. to learn how other countries teach STEM subjects. From there, Lewis thought, “Why don’t I take them to a country where they can see it for themselves?”

Lewis connected with her alma mater, the University of Sussex in England, which agreed to open its doors to the UTeach students. At the university, students met with professors in the Department of Education, who held workshops on the British education system and teaching methods. The lessons made a lasting impression on Prince Green, an honors biological sciences major with a UTeach minor.

“One of my favorite lessons that we had is to get students OK with making mistakes,” says Green, a rising sophomore from Washington, D.C. “That’s the whole point of learning; you need to make mistakes in order to grow.”

The students visited three public schools in the Brighton area. From the rigor of the coursework to the way in which students are graded, the UTeach students noted how a country’s education system can impact a child.

UTeach study abroad learning Image by Sumudu Lewis
Students learn about the Sussex Maths Hub at St. Paul's Catholic College in Burgess Hill, England.
“It’s really important for teachers to have cultural awareness in a classroom,” says Ekouldi, a rising junior from Methuen, Massachusetts. “You need to be aware of a student's needs and what they’re going through to provide a good learning environment for them to thrive.”

Ekouldi is building her cultural awareness through study abroad trips. In addition to England, Ekouldi has studied abroad in San Sebastian, Spain, as well as Amsterdam.

“I feel super lucky to be able to travel the world, especially at a young age,” says Ekouldi, who received scholarships for the trips. “Not worrying about financial costs allows you to immerse yourself even more.”

Green, who plans on studying abroad again, appreciates the opportunity to travel with UMass Lowell during school breaks.

“These shorter trips are very helpful, because you can go somewhere but also have time for your studies,” he says.

In England, the UTeach students got to explore outside of the classroom. They visited the Arundel Castle, Stonehenge and Platform 9¾ at King's Cross Station. Some students ventured to Seven Sisters, a series of chalk cliffs in southeast England, while others watched Brighton & Hove Albion face off against Chelsea in a soccer match.

UTeach study abroad Stonehenge Image by Sumudu Lewis
UTeach Director Sumudu Lewis, third from left, visits Stonehenge with her students.

Lewis hopes the trip will help the UTeach students become more effective teachers.

“There are different ways of teaching the same subject,” she says. “The students can compare what they’ve learned in England and incorporate that into their teaching.”

For Green, the study abroad trip was eye-opening as he considers teaching as a possible career.

“This trip shaped how I view education,” he says. “I initially thought a teacher was somebody who relays information to their students when, in actuality, the job is more than just relaying information. The job is to inspire the next generation.”