IU School of Education, Peace Corps partner for EFL/ESL Master's International program

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A new partnership of the Indiana University School of Education and the Peace Corps will help fill a global need for well-prepared teachers of English as a Foreign and/or Second Language (EFL/ESL) while allowing the Peace Corps experience to count toward a master's degree.

In the Master's International program, a Peace Corps service assignment counts for 6 graduate credits toward a master's degree from the Department of Literacy, Culture and Language Education at the School of Education.

The master's program emphasizes EFL/ESL teaching, meeting a surging worldwide demand. Faridah Pawan, associate professor in Literacy, Culture and Language Education, said demand has recently tripled and grows yearly.

"We're working with the Peace Corps in preparing them about what to expect when they go abroad," Pawan said. "It goes with the School of Education's internationalization mission. We're not only giving them early exposure to what's out there; we're developing qualified, highly informed individuals in terms of teaching English overseas."

Classes for the Master's International are available on campus and online. Students must apply for admission into the Peace Corps to be eligible for the MI graduate program. However, students can apply for the MI separately and at any time before or while they are applying for the Peace Corps.

Because classes can be taken online, on campus or in combination, MI coursework can be completed before, during or after students' overseas service assignment. This flexibility allows for students to receive early preparation before they leave for their Peace Corps service. Additionally, they can receive support while they are in the field to help them address some of the daily challenges they experience and provide a collegial network with others who teach English abroad. When students return home, the MI program and the qualifications they receive from it can help the students set up for the next phase in their professional lives.

The program started through an internal grant from the IU School of Education dean's office and initiated the first cohort in the fall semester. The Peace Corps spent time recently at the IU School of Education in Bloomington to recruit more for the program.

"We're looking for people with the skill set or degree within education who are hoping to gain valuable work experience abroad while serving their country and serving the community," said Laura Fonseca, regional recruiter for the Peace Corps. "So we're hoping to reach out to some of those students who have an interest in gaining international work experience within their field."

The work is already under way. First-semester student Joan Connor is teaching English as a Foreign Language in Mongolia. Former Indianapolis teacher Alyssa Sizemore leaves for the Federated States of Micronesia in June. Two other students are taking coursework and awaiting assignments abroad in the fall.

Pawan said the studies help the participants in more ways than just simply better preparation for teaching English. "It creates a network of like-minded people who will be in the same situation," Pawan said. "They are connected with other individuals who are in the Peace Corps who are about to go or are abroad. So in essence, it creates a community of practice for these teachers."

Fonseca noted that the Master's International participants will have the same benefits as anyone else in the Peace Corps. Participants are paid and receive living expenses for their assigned post, are eligible for a year of non-competitive eligibility for federal jobs and can apply to do further graduate work through a Peace Corps fellowship program that provides reduced tuition and scholarships.

Those accepted into the Peace Corps spend three months in training for work in their assigned country. While assignments vary by the needs of the country, Fonseca said a large number of countries are looking for educators.

"More than 30 percent of our programs are in the field of education," she said. "This is just a basic, very common demand from communities overseas, and we want to make sure those demands are met."

Pawan expects that the EFL/ESL Master's International will help those Peace Corps volunteers who are most often assigned to teach English when they are overseas.

"It reduces the mystery of what to expect in different global contexts," she said. "More importantly, it provides them with a set of experiences, skills and a supportive network to undertake the exciting international experience that awaits them."

Joining the EFL/ESL Master's International program is one way to respond to the Peace Corps call for students to take action and participate in the globalized world through their motto, "Life is calling!"

The mission of the Peace Corps is to promote world peace and friendship and a better understanding between Americans and people of other countries. Since the start of the Peace Corps by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, more than 200,000 Americans have served in 139 host countries. Today, 9,095 volunteers are working with local communities in 75 host countries. Volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age to serve a 27-month commitment.

More information about the Master's International is available on the Department of Literacy, Culture and Language Education website. More about the Peace Corps is on its website.