Experience Internships: Where Teaching and Learning Collide

We often expect internships to take us to new places professionally and mentally, and sometimes they even take us to new physical places. But when you hear that your friend has a summer internship in a different city, you assume that they mean within the United States. How surprised would you be to find out that their internship was in a new city AND country? Honors Program student, Rose Simonson, recounts her internship experience in Kazakhstan, where she may have taught creative writing, but also learned a lot about herself along the way.


I had the opportunity to spend the month of June teaching Creative Writing at a FIZMAT school in Astana, Kazakhstan. I taught a two hour-long course each weekday to a class of twelve high school students.

The school that I was teaching at was a private school that focused in physics and math, so my creative writing class was the first chance that many of my students had to express themselves through words. Several of my students had been secretly writing for years, but were too embarrassed to let any of their friends know about their passion. It was such a blessing to see these students begin to blossom and grow in their confidence through writing. One of my favorite activities with my students was to have them perform their work out loud.


They all began the summer talking shyly and quietly; however, by the end of the summer school, each student had developed their own individual appreciation for words, which gave the students who hid their work the confidence to, at last, boldly and eagerly proclaim their love for words. Their excitement gave me an unparalleled feeling of purpose; I have never been more proud in my life than when I saw my students work come together in the literary magazine that we created during the last week of summer school. In seeing my students discover a passion and confidence in their writing, I discovered that I felt a longing in my heart to become a teacher, a career that I had never considered myself as meant for before.


The hardest struggle of mine, while living in Kazakhstan, was the language barrier. Some of my students could speak fluent English. One student of mine even fluently spoke Russian, Kazak, English, French, and was already working on learning more languages. However, there were also students who struggled with even a small conversation about the weather. I could see in their eyes how discouraging some of my lessons felt due to the difference in language.


It was my own struggle with simple tasks, due to the language barrier, that enabled me to be aware and observant of when a student did not understand me. Even things like trying to turn off the school’s computers was made difficult by not being able to read which box said “shut down,” “log off,” or “sleep”. If I go back to Kazakhstan next summer to teach (which I very much hope to), I will definitely try to learn more of the Russian language to not only make my time there taking taxis or buying groceries easier, but also to be able to help my students to the fullest amount that I can.


Overall, the moment that was most memorable from my trip was walking to school from my apartment on my own for the first time. I was alone in a city of 800,000 people by myself. The words of another language washed through my ears, words that I could not understand. My phone did not have a sim card in case I needed to contact anyone. I was surrounded by new foods (horse meat, yogurt drinks, cheese so salty it’s rock hard), new rules (never wear shoes past the doorway, simply reach out an open palm and a taxi will stop for you, do not say no if someone offers you food), and new opportunities to explore a government and religion that I had never known. Yet, despite all of my confusion in this new culture, I felt free and confident walking to work by myself. Kazakhstan was a time for realizing how tiny my world here in America is, and also how little I knew of all the people and perspectives on Earth.

Finding international internships can sometimes be a little more difficult than finding domestic ones, especially because most of the companies that recruit at the University of Iowa are based in the US. However, our International Programs website does offer assistance for finding internships abroad. It’s like studying abroad and interning all in one; what could be better than that?

Written by: Rose Simonson, Honors Student

Rose Simonson studies Linguistics, English, and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa. She is currently a sophomore working for the University’s Ink Lit magazine. She has studied abroad in Ireland and taught in Kazakhstan because she loves to learn about new cultures.

Edited by: Chloe Sekhran, Blog Manager


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