Dutch exchange students Matilde Wulms, Jesse Swensen, and Elles Ritt enjoyed their time teaching in the classrooms at Maple Avenue School in the Niagara Falls School District.

Three Dutch students studying bilingual primary education in the Netherlands are getting hands-on experience at Maple Avenue School in Niagara Falls, N.Y., through an internship coordinated by Niagara University’s College of Education.

“This is the fourth group of teacher candidates visiting from the Han University of Applied Sciences,” said Dr. Chandra Foote, dean of the college. “We are thrilled that after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, we are once again able to play host and introduce them to Niagara University, Niagara Falls City Schools, and the local region. It is a wonderful experience for all of us, as we learn about the Dutch culture and educational system, while these teacher candidates practice their English and teaching skills alongside some outstanding teachers in our community.”

Ellis and her kindergarteners

Ellis Ritt and her students celebrate King's Day.

The students, Elles Ritt, Jesse Swensen, and Matilde Wulms, are learning about the American education system while gaining additional experience in working with elementary-aged students that they can take back to the classrooms they will eventually lead. They said they have been enjoying the opportunity to learn about the differences between the two education systems, as well as teaching the children Dutch words and about traditions such as King’s Day, a celebration held every year on April 27 which is renowned for being one of the biggest and most colorful festivities in the Netherlands.

Matilde, who was placed in a second grade classroom, says she has learned a lot in her “challenging class of 24 pupils.” 

“It's been an amazing experience,” she said. “Something I love over here is how much the kids write. They have all sorts of writing assignments that allow them to channel their creativity and use their imagination.”

Elles, who is teaching kindergarten, said she quickly saw that her students are learning reading, writing and math earlier than their counterparts in the Netherlands, but noted that “despite all the differences, I do believe children are the same all over the world.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience here,” she continued. “I fell in love with Maple and its students. From the start, everyone has made me feel so welcome, and I really wish I could stay longer.”

The experience has been an impactful one for their students, as well.

“Our Dutch students have been embraced by the students of Maple Avenue School,” said Jeff Showers, principal. “They always have a smile for a child and a kind word. We hope this experience that has been shared is one they will fondly remember.”

During their internship, the three exchange students have been living in one of the residence halls on the Niagara campus, which has also proved to be a learning opportunity for them.

“Living on campus was a whole new experience for me!” said Jesse, who taught in a fourth grade classroom. “We don't really have anything like it in the Netherlands. Although I needed to get used to the campus, I really enjoy it here now. I can see why people come here for four years. I wish I could experience it for a whole year.”

Except for what I have seen in the movies, campus life is something completely new to me,” Elles said. “It has been so nice living at Niagara University, because it is such a fun atmosphere. The campus is beautiful and there are a lot of fun activities to do.”

“Life on campus is a bit strange to me,” Matilde agreed. “We don't have big campuses like this back home. Student housing is rarely connected to universities, and they're never really on campus like this. Everyone here is so friendly, too! There's always something to do, or someone to chat with. I love it here.”

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