Jennifer To is doing something she thinks will help her become a better schoolteacher in England.
She's spending time in America.
Specifically, she's at Middle Georgia State University for three weeks as a visiting student.
"I wanted a different kind of experience," said To (pronounced "toe"), 29, who attends the University of Northampton, based in Northamptonshire, England. "I'd not experienced the American system."
A little more than a year ago, Middle Georgia State and the University of Northampton signed a memorandum of understanding to allow the two institutions to work together on various academic activities of mutual interest. MGA President Dr. Christopher Blake signed the agreement while traveling in his native England.
As a result of that agreement, representatives of MGA's School of Education have been working to bring Early Childhood Studies majors at Northampton to Middle Georgia State. To is the first student to take advantage of the opportunity, but she won't be the last.
"There is a lot of interest among our students in going to Northampton and in having more of their students coming to us," said Dr. Dr. Sumitra Himangshu, assistant professor of Education who is serving as To's advisor and guide while she is at MGA. "The class schedules of the two schools are very different but we hope to see more student exchanges by early next year."
To, who is originally from Hong Kong, is in her last year of studies at the University of Northampton. During her three-week visit, she is living in the Macon Campus residence hall and helping Early Childhood majors at MGA with Junior Knights Summer Camp, an academic enrichment camp for elementary schoolchildren hosted by the School of Education.
To immediately recognized some of the differences between Early Childhood teacher preparation in England and the U.S. Early Childhood studies in England focus on methods for teaching youngsters from birth to about 8 years old, whereas in the U.S. the focus is on kindergarten through fifth grade. U.S. students studying Early Childhood education get more one-on-one time with their professors, she said, and their field experiences in classrooms seem to be more in-depth.
"I've loved working with the children" at Junior Knights Camp, To said. "I don't get to work with that age group much, so it's been a good experience. There's a lot happening every single day."
She's also enjoyed working with her American counterparts, whom she admires for their support of each other as they work toward their degrees.
"They seem like a really close group and are very easy to get to know," she said.
Besides working at Junior Knights Camp and visiting Education classes at MGA, To toured a local elementary school, as well as the Tubman Museum and the Museum of Arts and Sciences.
Himangshu and her husband, Cameron Pennybacker, will show her notable sites in Atlanta, and To also plans to visit an aunt in San Francisco before heading back to England.
After she graduates, To hopes to begin her career teaching at a school in England before establishing a nursery she'd like to own and operate.
"I've picked up some good information while I've been here," she said. "I'll be able to use it in my own teaching."
Photo: Jennifer To, center, with some of the kids who participated in Junior Knights Camp and with some MGA Education majors.