Shruti Bhat, a student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, is spending the summer along the northeastern border of Afghanistan, helping to establish an educational curriculum for early childhood learners who need to make the transition from one language to another.
During the nearly three-month internship in Khorog, Tajikistan, Bhat is finalizing the design of the Grade 0 curriculum, similar to planning an English as a Second Language curriculum for kindergarten students in the United States.
As part of the internship with GSE’s International Educational Development Program, she’s working with the Aga Khan Foundation and assisting their close partner, the Institute for Professional Development. Together, they will create the Grade 0 curriculum which is designed to help non-native Tajik speakers in Tajikistan make the transition from programs taught in Pamiri, the local language, to Grade 1, where the instruction is given in Tajik, the national language.
By the end of the summer, Bhat hopes to produce high-quality, user-friendly products that are easy to understand and implement for all Grade 0 teachers, including a teachers’ resource guide, along with professional development workshops.
Born in India, Bhat has traveled to 34 countries in six out of the seven continents. She hasn’t visited Antarctica, but came very close when she was in Patagonia. Chile. Among her international experiences, she spent eight months living in Peru as an English as a Second Language Teacher.
“I love traveling and immersing myself in new cultures and surroundings,” says Bhat. “The best part of traveling, for me, is meeting people and learning about their cultures and traditions.”
Before becoming an education professional, Bhat was a certified public accountant and worked at a corporate accounting firm for nearly four years. But, in her heart, she heard a different calling.
“I really wanted to do something more for others, particularly children,” Bhat says.
She volunteered at schools as a classroom assistant or a tutor in many different places around the world, from the low-income neighborhoods of Chicago to those in India, Nigeria, Costa Rica and Romania.
“I was inspired by these children to actually quit my corporate accounting job and pursue a career in education,” Bhat says.
To prepare for the summer internship, Bhat took the required international field experience courses and studied how to design curriculums, teacher resource guides and professional development workshops.
It was in her curriculum and pedagogy class that she was able to team up with four other GSE students and design the curriculum for AKF Tajikistan. Based on her academic work, she had the opportunity to go to Tajikistan through the IEDP International Internship Program and see the project all the way to its completion.
Certain statements have really resonated with Bhat throughout her time at Penn.
“Children are not a distraction from more important work, they are the most important work,” John Fantuzzo, a professor at Penn GSE, said to the developmental theories and applications with children class. “We are all living opportunities,” he said.
Bhat says Fantuzzo’s words continue to inspire her to be a living opportunity for others – especially children, even as she’s halfway around the world.
Bhat did her research before traveling to Tajikistan. In the news, she had heard the area was “high risk” and that she had to be very careful.
As a lifelong globetrotter, she knows to take safety precautions, but it was the first time that she felt anxious before coming to a new place. But she says she found things were very different from what she’d originally anticipated.
“What I didn’t expect and what I realized is that what the news doesn’t talk about is how beautiful and serene this place is, how friendly and hospitable the people really are, and how this place is actually very safe,” Bhat says, adding that she is still alert and aware of her surroundings as much as she would be anywhere else.
“The locals love foreigners and want to develop this region, opening it up for tourists,” Bhat says. “It is a hidden gem: a special place with an interesting history, alongside rich culture and traditions.”
She’s also blogging about her experiences in Tajikistan every week or so at www.khorogadventures.wordpress.com. She plans to focus on her overall experience, the work she’s doing, the region’s culture and customs, as well as trips that she’s planning to take during her time off.
“I’m excited to be here and can’t wait to see what adventures await me the rest of the summer,” she says.