A new program for our changing world

A new program for our changing world

This is not the first time that SIT has created an innovative program designed to respond to the immediate needs of our world in a time of crisis

DUMMERSTON — Back in 1932, when Donald B. Watt created the Experiment in International Living, he started a new trend in education. His belief that experience is the best teacher resulted in the idea of sending students abroad in order to learn firsthand about people and places instead of simply reading about them in a classroom setting.

Today, the term “experiential education” captures exactly what Watt had in mind when he created one of the premier educational exchange organizations at that time, one that eventually grew into a worldwide federation of multiple countries.

Each summer, from 1932 until 1938, groups traveled to Austria, France, Germany, and Spain, where they spent time living with a host family and learning about the local culture and language. Unfortunately, Europe soon became engulfed in World War II, and programs were suspended.

As a result, Watt decided to bring students from Europe to the United States and, in 1939, a group of young Germans arrived in New York. For obvious reasons, the timing was difficult and host families were difficult to find as the Nazis became powerful in Europe. Nevertheless, the group completed the program in the U.S. and returned to Germany.

When U.S. students could no longer travel to Europe, Watt expanded his search to other sites. After making contacts in Mexico and Peru, he began sending groups to these new countries.

When the organization celebrated its 80th anniversary, the Experiment was functioning in numerous countries on several continents, including Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.

In 1962, it was no coincidence that the Experiment, located in Putney, was chosen to train the first group of Peace Corps volunteers.

Peace Corps Director Sargent Shriver had been an Experimenter and group leader to Austria in the 1930s and, because of this experience, he was convinced that the program would be the best organization to provide both language and intercultural training.

As the number of Peace Corps projects increased, Jack Wallace, then-vice-president of the Experiment, searched in the area to find a larger and more permanent training center and acquired the Sandanona estate near Brattleboro as a second site.

There, Peace Corps projects continued as a regular activity for many years, preparing trainees for many countries, including Afghanistan, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Gabon, India, Iran, Pakistan, and Venezuela.

After acquiring the new location, the Sandanona Center also received requests to orient incoming African and Latin American scholarship students in language and cultural preparation for their entry into American universities.

Additional intensive English programs were also started for international students from many countries, many of whom had visits and home stays with people throughout this region of Vermont, especially in Brattleboro.

The Sandanona Training Center later became the accredited School for International Training (SIT), an institution well-known to area residents. In 1967, SIT started an International Career Training Program, an innovative graduate program to prepare people for international work, and a program created years later by other institutions such as the Monterey Institute and Thunderbird University.

Given its extensive experience in teaching languages, SIT also added its Master of Arts in Teaching Languages (MATL) program in 1968.

This program was unique in its approach to the training of language educators and the teaching of languages. The program design included teaching internships situated between two semesters, all of which could be completed within one year.

Many of the students in both SIT programs conducted their internships abroad in a foreign country. While the MATL program began with French and Spanish teachers, English was added the second year at a time when few programs offered a master's degree in teaching English as a second/foreign language.

Over the years, the key to SIT's success has been its ability to continually respond to the needs of the times and to develop innovative programs.

Its next successful venture was creation of a World Issues Program designed for students transferring from other colleges to complete their junior and senior years.This two-year undergraduate program focused on environmental studies, climate change, population, and other pressing world issues.

Again, field experience constituted an important component of the program. Years later, as study of these areas became specializations, many other colleges came up with similar programs.

SIT's other undergraduate offering is Academic Semester Abroad programs, an initiative that it began in the 1950s and that continued to grow significantly over the years. While most colleges with study-abroad offerings commonly focused on France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, SIT offered programs to both these and other non-traditional destinations such as Australia, Belize, Bolivia, Cameroon, Chile, China, Cuba, Ghana, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, Peru, Vietnam, and South Africa.

Last March, however, given the pandemic, SIT had to bring back students from many of these countries. This had happened before. When the Gulf War started, SIT had to bring students who were in the Middle East back to the U.S.

Again, the Experiment and SIT changed the destination of programs and intensified activity in Latin America.

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The early International Career training Program eventually developed into a master's program in International Management, which focused on areas such as international education, peace and conflict resolution, and sustainable development, among others.

The Master of Arts in Teaching Languages focused primarily on Teaching English to Speakers of other languages (TESOL) and now with an emphasis in plurilingualism. Today, due to measures imposed by the pandemic, SIT, as with many colleges and universities, has had to adapt its programs temporarily to different formats of delivery, mainly online instruction.

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Continuing its traditional experiential approach to education, SIT has recently developed and now offers its first doctoral level program.

According to SIT President Sophia Howlett: “This three-year program responds to the needs of professionals seeking to accelerate their careers in global education, whether in their local communities or abroad.”

This new hybrid doctorate in global education (Ed.D.) combines rigorous online coursework with short residencies in Vermont to fit the needs of part- and full-time professionals seeking to rapidly accelerate their careers while tackling highly relevant issues in global education.

Drawn from SIT's in-depth, reflective practice and intensive research training, the program gives students the tools they need to excel in an increasingly diverse, competitive, and interdisciplinary world.

The program's unique features include strong theoretical grounding in comparative and international education, four rigorous research methods courses, as well as reflective practice, doctoral seminars conducted throughout the entire program, building a community of practice with a dissertation advisor's guidance and peer support.

Students pursue research topics of their own choosing and may use their work settings as actual research sites. Finally, the flexible program design allows students to pursue their own specializations in education at any level, in any subfield, and at any location.

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Faculty for the new doctoral program includes a range of professors who have lived and worked internationally, who are from a variety of countries, and who firmly believe in the value of an experiential educational approach.

Dr. Alla Korzh, the program chair, is herself an international individual. Born and raised in Ukraine, she has witnessed both the Soviet and the post-Soviet era and its effects on the people and the culture of her own country of origin. With an interest in languages, cultures, and peoples of other countries, she became deeply interested in the intercultural relationships and international development.

Given her exposure to different educational systems in Ukraine and the U.S., she has developed a passion for international and global education, and in her research and non-profit practice she has focused on equalizing educational opportunities and enhancing educational experiences for most marginalized children, youth, and adults. She is devoted to helping other people develop interest in examining educational issues and systems around the world.

World Learning's School for International Training will welcome the first cohort to this three-year doctoral program in June 2021. In keeping with its past record, SIT continues through this new offering to develop innovative ideas and programs that respond to the needs of our times and that hopefully will contribute to promoting international understanding among the peoples of the world.

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