The second semester of senior year is a trying time for most. It’s often filled with resume bolstering, looming job anxiety and a strong case of senioritis. But for Molly Sutter, the second semester of her senior year is filled with the satisfaction of travel, teaching “maths” lessons and immersing herself in a culture on the other side of the world.
Sutter’s initial experience of travel, which was first sparked after spending a summer in Europe helping host Fellowship of Christian Athletes sports camps, was something she needed to experience again.
“I had the bug for traveling, and I didn’t want to stop,” Sutter said. “Once I got a taste of what was out there in the rest of the world, I just had to do more.”
While the decision to student teach in Australia might sound strange or risky for some, this decision was no surprise to those closest to her.
“I sort of knew she wouldn’t stay in Nebraska, but I wasn’t expecting halfway across the world,” McKenzie Wedel, Sutter’s friend and roommate, said. “It’s also very typical Molly, who’s always looking for an adventure.”
That urge to do more sparked her search for an overseas teaching experience. In November 2014, she started getting serious about going overseas and recruited the help of Hastings College professor and education department chair, Dr. Kathryn Rempp.
She caught a break in April 2015 when she found the Global Gateway Program through Indiana University. After seven months of correspondence with Indiana University and multiple programs in Australia, she found a 12-week placement with Radford College, a secondary school, in Canberra, Australia.
“That is really when I knew this was actually going to happen. So throughout November to January, I was contacting Radford College to set up all the specific details of my stay,” Sutter said. “It was a long and sometimes unrealistic opportunity, but I always had the support of my family, friends and professors to keep me positive.”
After being accepted into the Global Gateway Program, Sutter went through Radford’s specific requirements, including: a working with vulnerable people check, obtaining a visa, purchasing plane tickets and additional paperwork. On Feb. 1, Sutter flew to Australia to begin her student teaching experience overseas.
Upon her arrival at Radford College, she received a tour of the campus, met some of her colleagues and received the keys to her fully furnished flat Soon after, she got her first taste of Australia and began building relationships with the students she would soon teach.
“My first week I was here, I was able to attend the year seven camping trip, which took us to the mountains for five days as a bonding experience for all year seven students,” she said. “This is probably one of my favorite parts about classes here at Radford. They’re all about building up a sense of community and belonging in their school and work on developing the whole individual.”
As far as actual classroom experiences go, Sutter noted there are a few distinct differences between the American and Australian school systems. The biggest difference is what they refer to as “math classes.”
“First of all, it’s called maths here and not math, so that has been a little hard to get used to saying,” she said. “Instead of following specific topics, such as going from geometry class in ninth grade to an algebra two class in tenth grade, the students just move up from year nine maths to year 10 maths. I’m still getting used to how the curriculum flows, but [I] will be taking over a year 11 applications class, a year 11 specialists class and a year seven maths class within the next week.”
She also shares a big office with fellow maths department teachers and enjoys the sense of community and comradery she feels with her fellow teachers.
“It’s been really fun when we have a lot of us in the office at once,” Sutter said. “There is a lot of collaboration and some fun banter that goes on throughout the day, so I love getting to work in this space with my colleagues.”
While the experience has been overwhelmingly positive thus far, it hasn’t come without difficulties or surprises. Sutter described a specific conversation she overheard between students that made her wonder, “How many times have I misspoken about someone else’s culture when I didn’t have all the facts, and how much did I offend them?”
Being so far away, she also noted how difficult it can be keeping up with family and friends. However, she’s taken plenty of proactive steps, including purchasing an international SIM card to have unlimited calls and texts, both domestically and internationally.
Sutter has a special bond with her roommates from the honors house (714) she lived in at Hastings College and has been diligent in remaining in contact with them through FaceTime chat and Google Hangouts.
“The Google Hangouts chat was fun because we were able to get everyone in Hastings, Anna Stewart [who is currently student teaching in Chicago] and myself all in one chat.”
The surprises have far outweighed the challenges. She recalled the first time she saw a kangaroo while on the camping trip with students.
“While we were camping I walked out of the bush [forest] and literally walked into a group of about seven kangaroos. I was like, ‘Oh My Gosh, look at those kangaroos!’” she said. “All of the kids looked at me like I was crazy and it was just a normal occurrence to see them.”
When she’s not in the classroom, Sutter spends her downtime running, prepping for the next school day and even watching the Australian version of “Family Feud.”
She hopes to someday become a mathematics professor at a university, but until then, has already started applying to some high school and middle school positions back here in the United States.
Sutter hopes her experiences and testimony will encourage others to follow similar paths and explore different places and ways of learning.
“I would definitely recommend other students explore options to teach in other locations,” she said. “Experiencing a new culture is eye-opening and can bring great insight into how you want to be viewed as a teacher and what you want your students to learn from you.”