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The verdant tropical forests surrounding Monteverde have long been an idyllic setting for University of Nebraska-Lincoln students spending a semester living and learning in Costa Rica.

When Rachel Kingston and Rosie Gomez travel to the Central American nation next week, they will have a whole different experience than the Huskers that have gone before them, becoming the first UNL students to student teach in a foreign country.

The new program is part of the College of Education and Human Sciences' effort to expand and diversify the international experiences of its students, said Jim Benes, a global exchange coordinator for the college.

"We already have study-abroad programs for our students," Benes said. "We thought it would be a logical expansion to allow for the student-teaching process to be done at English-speaking schools in other countries."

The pair of Lincoln natives say that in addition to pioneering a new path for future educators at UNL, they are also living a dream come true and getting a head start on their career goals.

"When I first got into education, I knew I wanted to teach overseas," said Kingston, a Lincoln Northeast graduate. "Teaching allows you to see the world, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to get out of Nebraska.

"I did not believe I could go student teach in another country, though," she added.

Kingston was the first — and only — UNL student to jump at the offering when it opened in February. Three months later, as the deadline to sign up neared, Gomez, who shares Kingston's goals to teach internationally, also latched on to the unique opportunity.

"This is just a really great gateway into that field," the Lincoln High graduate said.

Both Spanish-speaking students will teach English and math at The Cloud Forest School in Monteverde for the fall semester; Kingston in kindergarten and Gomez in fifth and sixth grade.

Benes said in building the program, UNL worked to line up a cooperating teacher that would coordinate with college staff to ensure Kingston and Gomez meet Nebraska Department of Education requirements for student teachers.

UNL faculty and the College of Education and Human Sciences' director of professional experiences will also close the 3,100-mile gap through Skype to continue mentoring their students, he added.

Sara Skretta, certification officer for the college, said UNL student teachers regularly request out-of-state placements, and other universities, both large and small, have permitted their student teachers to travel abroad to teach.

About 4 percent of UNL's student teachers left the state last spring, she added, while 10 percent are scheduled to leave the state for placements this fall.

While Kingston and Gomez will be the first UNL students in the new program, the university is exploring expansion to places such as Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The college will "plan to move forward and provide expanded international opportunities for student teachers, but we prioritize our commitment to quality over quantity," Skretta said.

As they prepare to work through the unexpected turns of life in a foreign country, Kingston and Gomez said they are ready to pioneer a new program for UNL.

"I hope this will broaden the conversation about teaching, not just domestically, but globally," Gomez said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education, state government and the intersection of both.

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