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Laura Hannum

A Globe-Trotting Education
Idaho Student Teacher Takes Lessons to Balkan Republic
By Cheryl Dudley

A 22-hour flight away from Idaho is Skopje, Macedonia. It’s the destination of choice — sight-unseen, country unknown — for Laura Hannum, a senior from Tri-Cities, Wash. But, her anticipation level is high for a transformational experience as she prepares to be a student teacher during spring semester at Skpoje’s Nova International Schools.

The University of Idaho College of Education is committed to educating global citizens. That’s why it recently established a student teacher internship in the Republic of Macedonia; Hannum is the inaugural student teacher in the program.

Hannum spent the fall semester student teaching second graders at Bryan Elementary School in Coeur d’Alene. “Bryan Elementary is a Title I school, and some of the students have been really challenging,” she says. “But it’s given me the best experiences and I wouldn’t change that. I love the school.”

However, when the chance came for her to try something different for spring semester, she jumped at the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to the Republic of Macedonia and student teach at Nova International School. She bought a plane ticket to Skopje, Macedonia, in November with little knowledge of the country or what to expect.

Nova’s K-8 elementary and middle school is an independent coeducational English language day school representing more than 40 nations. Daily cross-cultural interactions between students are a key component of the school’s international educational process.

The campus is located in a quiet residential area about two miles from the city center of Skopje. The school is state-of-the-art: students have access to the wireless campus and computer labs, science labs, art and drama studios, an auditorium, library, bookstore, full-service cafeteria, outdoor green areas and a sports court. In September 2009, the elementary and middle school will relocate to a new high-tech green facility adjacent to the current campus. To date, it will be the only energy-efficient building of its kind in the Republic of Macedonia.

Hannum will be the first University of Idaho student to intern at Nova. Michele O’Neill, associate professor in the College of Business, spent four months in Macedonia as a Fulbright Scholar. O’Neill facilitated the idea for the partnership when she met Victor Novakovski, head of Nova School, whose mother founded the school. What resulted was a series of e-mail exchanges between College of Education Dean Paul Rowland and Novakovski that culminated in a U.S. visit last June. A number of different partnerships were discussed, including ways to make professional development available for U.S. and Macedonian teachers.

“Nova School would like its teachers both to mentor and to learn from our student teachers,” said Rowland. “We hope this relationship will grow into something more.” Rowland and Novakovski are also discussing what the University of Idaho can do to provide online professional development for teachers in Macedonia and also to facilitate a faculty exchange program. Providing student interns to the school is a first step in a potentially broader relationship.

Since her acceptance, Hannum has been trying to find out as much as possible about the country. She met up with a University of Idaho student from Macedonia, who offered her some helpful information. “I asked him a lot of questions about safety issues. My parents are not real comfortable with me going there, although they are supportive. But he said it was safe for Americans.”

The Republic of Macedonia is a landlocked country on the Balkan Peninsula in Southeastern Europe, bordered by Serbia and the disputed territory of Kosovo to the north, Albania to the west, Greece to the south, and Bulgaria to the east. It lies in the northwestern third of the wider geographical region of Macedonia, and is inhabited by about 40 percent of the region's population. The capital city of Skopje, where Hannum will be staying, has a population of about 507,000. The region has more than 50 lakes and 16 mountains higher than 6,550 feet.

Hannum will be in Macedonia from January 9 to May 20. After graduation, she is seriously considering teaching abroad. “After going to Okinawa, I became really interested in teaching in another country,” she relates. “I absolutely love Spanish-speaking countries. I’d like to go to Costa Rica or Spain. I love to do salsa dancing — but I’m afraid I’m not going to find that in Macedonia!”

Aside from the experience she’ll gain while teaching at Nova International School, Hannum was excited about one other small piece of information she learned about the country. “I was told that things are really cheap there. Someone told me that coffee is only about 80 cents,” she said.

More than anything, Hannum is excited about the opportunity to meet and converse with such a diverse population. “It’s just such a phenomenal experience to get out of America and see how other people interact,” she says.