Eleven High Schools in the Midwest Participated in Euro Challenge 2014

Eleven high schools from Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin participated in the 2014 Euro Challenge.

GlobalFest 2014

GlobalFest is an annual event that celebrates world languages and cultures, and encourages middle and high school students to make connections with the global society.

U-46 Teacher Travels the Globe to Enhance Her Lessons

Elgin Area School District teacher Chris LaRue spent two weeks in Turkey in 2013, a trip that was almost entirely funded by the Turkish Cultural Foundation.

EU Centers of Excellence Education Trip to Belgium

Read two teachers' experiences during the 2013 EU Centers of Excellence Education Trip to Belgium.

TED Helps European and American Educators Connect

The Transatlantic Educators Dialogue (TED), held from February through May, gives American and European educators an opportunity to meet virtually to discuss educational issues.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Nordic Models of Education Course Development: Part One - Welcome to Sweden, Arctic adventures, and the central role of nature in the identity of Sami children

Jeremie and Betty representing the Orange and Blue!
By Jeremie Smith

Jeremie Smith, Outreach Coordinator at the Center for Global Studies (CGS), is collaborating with University of Illinois’ alum, Betty Trummel, to develop a new College of Education study abroad course,
Nordic Models of Education. The study abroad course, designed especially for pre-service teachers and other College of Education students, will debut during the Spring of 2018.

This course development is supported by the Center for Global Studies, the European Union Center, and the College of Education. Jeremie and Betty are currently on a course-planning trip in Sweden, Finland, and Norway. Jeremie will write blog posts during the course development trip to share his experiences and preview the course.


After being greeted by our two of our Swedish hosts, Ingrid and Curt, at the Lulea airport, Betty and I went to their home for a dinner of locally sourced food. This “welcome to Sweden” feast included reindeer, lingonberries, fresh root vegetables, and a very thin wafer-like bread. It was a delicious meal after the four long flights I took to get to Lulea (Champaign to Chicago to London to Stockholm to Lulea).

Snowmobile=essential arctic transportation
During dinner, Ingrid, a retired teacher, described her decades of experience as an elementary school teacher in Lulea and explained how experiential learning experiences are a hallmark of the education of children in Sweden. Her students were accustomed to taking many field trips and engaged in multidisciplinary project-based learning at a very young age. We also discussed how cultivating independence in young children is a central aim of elementary education in her country.

The next morning, Betty and I embarked on a road trip to the family cabin of Gunnar Jonsson, a science teacher-educator at Lulea Technical University. This drive took us 275 miles north, passing the Arctic Circle marker and stopping at the Sami Cultural Museum in Jokkmokk. Though small, this museum had an extensive collection of artifacts and explanations of the cultural relevance of the cold climate, reindeer, and the traditional homeland of the Sami people which spans across northern sections of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia (often referred to as “Lapland”). As we continued, we ran into a bit of a late April blizzard, which is evidentially not uncommon in the Arctic. When we arrived near Gunnar’s cabin, located on the glacial lake Tornetrask, there was too much snow to approach the cabin by car, so he met us at the road to take us the final 4 km to his cabin by snowmobile.


During dinner, we had edifying conversations about one of Dr. Jonsson’s research projects that included a comparison of how different communities of children perceive nature and their relationship with the natural world. The methodology of this research focused on drawings produced by 8-11 year olds in several countries, including Sweden, Denmark, the USA, and Australia. For this task, he asked students to draw a response to the prompt, “What will your life look like in 30 years?” He showed us several drawings from different communities of children which focused on home life and their future jobs.

Swedish child's perception of their future in 30 years (Focused on work and home life)

Sami child's perception of their future in 30 years (Notice the cactus and the ecological bubble in which snow is falling.  This reveals a strident fear of climate change hurting the Sami way of life.)

Most fascinating were the several drawings from Sami children, deeply rooted in nature, and often featured reindeer, frozen landscapes, fish and other animals. One drawing was particularly memorable because it expressed a clear concern about the impact of climate change on the child’s way of life, depicting reindeer skulls in a desolate, cactus-laden scene and a bubble in which they could preserve the cold climate and Sami way of life. This theme of concern about how climate change will impact the natural world, people, and cultural traditions of the Arctic region was ever-present as several people mentioned it to us and it was the subject of a special exhibit at the Sami cultural museum.

Jeremie and Betty with Gunnar's cabin in the background
After dinner at Gunnar’s cabin, we talked for several hours about education policy, teacher training, and other matters related to public education and did not notice the time pass as the late night sun was shining brightly. That evening was my first experience with the extraordinarily long days one can find in the warmer months of a far northern region. I realize now it is one thing to know intellectually that the sun would be a near constant companion and another thing altogether to experience the disorientation of such long days.

The next morning, by a fortunate coincidence, the biggest annual ice fishing competition in Scandinavia was being held on the lake. After watching the more adept fishermen vigorously drill holes in the meter deep ice and lay down to peer into the clear glacial lake water, I tried my hand at ice fishing with no success. Take my word for it, ice fishing is both more fun and more difficult than it appears.

Jeremie learns how to drill the ice holes and tries ice fishing (without success)


We then proceeded to Abisko National Park, in the northern most region of Sweden. There, we investigated the possibility of rental cabins for University of Illinois students next year and guided tours/science education workshops with scientists working at the park. Driving back to Gunnar’s cabin, it struck me that the region is stark, foreboding, and beautiful beyond description.

In the next few days, we will visit local schools and Lulea Technical University’s teacher education program. I am grateful for the learning opportunity and am keen to share with other educators that join us for the study abroad course next spring.

Author's Note:
If you are interested in reading more about Dr. Gunnar Jonsson’s research, I recommend the journal article, “Too Hot for Reindeer, Voicing Sami Children’s Visions for the Future” - http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10382046.2012.672668
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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Transatlantic Educator's Dialogue (TED) Series-Week Eight

From January to May, the European Union Center invites educators from throughout the world to come together in an online setting and discuss important topics in modern educational practice and politics. As part of this discussion, students from the University of Illinois are invited to follow the discussion and write short posts about related topics on a country of interest. Lindsay Ozburn, a student in the EU Center’s Masters of Arts in European Union Studies program, will be contributing to this series through a multi-week study of Bulgarian politics and government. Her research will provide a thoughtful and helpful case study that will give TED participants a chance to see how their discussion topics are expressed in real life.

Week Eight Prompt: Please discuss how your country has approached recent developments in technology, especially information technology. Do many people use the internet? How fast is wifi and mobile networks? Does your country conduct frequent initiatives to further technological development, or is it left primarily to the private sector? Is there a vibrant local technology market, or are high-technologies exported in from other countries? Which technological sectors is your country primarily known for? Are the people of your country consume much technology, or do they tend to spend their money on other items? How heavily engaged are the people of your country on facebook or other social media sites? Does your country have strong measures in place to address new areas of cybercrime like identity theft, online bullying, hacking, etc?

Bulgaria’s Tech Industry
Lindsay Ozburn, MAEUS

While an admittedly small country in Europe, it has been growing as a tech giant since the early 2000s. According to Forbes, Bulgaria is ranked 5th in world for high-quality broadband and 1st in Europe. Despite having some of the fastest internet in the world, as of 2013 only 53.1% of Bulgarians use the internet, according to the World Bank. Regardless, the country is becoming known as Europe’s Silicon Valley, steadily growing the technology and IT industry since – with the exception of 2008-2010 during the peak of the European financial crisis (Marko Benda, edukwest.eu, 2015). According to Benda, while Bulgaria’s market is considered one of the least developed in Europe, steady growth is expected to push Bulgaria amongst giants.

Bulgaria has a wealth of high-skilled programmers, working for hundreds of smaller software companies. These smaller companies hold contracts with some the world’s biggest customers, including BMW, Boeing, CISCO, HP, vmware, and Nortel, according to the “Information Technology in Bulgaria” report published with support from the European Fund for Regional Development. As these skilled laborers are relatively low-cost compared to other parts of the world, they are often the recipients of outsourcing from large businesses in major countries such as the US. Additionally, their strategic geographic location allows them access to European, Russian, and some Asian markets. Bulgaria’s IT industry appears to be a good mix of private and public companies, and some NGOs, as well.
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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

TRANSATLANTIC EDUCATOR'S DIALOGUE (TED) SERIES – Week Seven

From January to May, the European Union Center invites educators from throughout the world to come together in an online setting and discuss important topics in modern educational practice and politics. As part of this discussion, students from the University of Illinois are invited to follow the discussion and write short posts about related topics on a country of interest. Lindsay Ozburn, a student in the EU Center’s Masters of Arts in European Union Studies program, will be contributing to this series through a multi-week study of Bulgarian politics and government. Her research will provide a thoughtful and helpful case study that will give TED participants a chance to see how their discussion topics are expressed in real life. 

Week Seven Prompt: How does your country handle issues of bullying and youth violence. Who makes the decisions regarding what is or is not acceptable? Are they done at the school level, school district level, state/provincial or national level? Has there been national attention or top-level efforts to stop bullying and youth violence? Have they been successful? In the last ten years, has there been a stand-out case or cases that brought media attention to this topic? Is bullying more common in a particular level of education (elementary, secondary, post-secondary) or is it widespread?

“I am not scared” – Combating Violence and Bullying in Bulgarian Schools
Lindsay Ozburn, MAEUS Student

As technological advancements have crept into many corners of the world, so, too, has cyberbullying amongst young children and teenagers. The European Commission and several member states have recognized this increase in bullying amongst its youth over the past decade. In response, several countries, including Bulgaria, have participated in the “I am not scared” project, supported by the European Commission under the Lifelong Learning Program. Bulgaria has participated in this program since 2010, aiming to “identify the best European strategies to prevent bullying”, with a bottom-up approach (Staneva, 2011:79, 87). In Bulgaria, it is supported specifically by Zinev Art Technologies.

Figure 1: uclacommons.com
According to a poll conducted in 2006, almost 70% of Bulgarian students admitted there were cases of aggression in their school, with three-quarters of parental responders citing poor family environment and lack of discipline at school as the main proponents of this aggression (Dimitriova, 2006). Polling performed by UNICEF in 2007 showed the 25% of children believed they were bullied once a week or more (Staneva, 2011:83). In regards to cyberbullying, again, 25% of teenagers 10-14 believed they were bullied at least once a week, through a variety of electronic mediums. Adding to this issue is the unlikelihood of a child reporting the bullying, according to Staneva.

While Bulgaria does participate in the “I am not scared” program, it does not currently have state policy to reduce or prevent violence and bullying in schools. There are resources, however, for children in situations of domestic abuse or bullying outside of the family. One in particular, the National Programme for Child Protection, offers support “for the better coordination and implementation of sectoral policies to achieve more effective protection of fundamental rights of children in Bulgaria” (Staneva, 2011:86).

For more information and statistics on violence and bullying in Bulgaria, including the “I am not scared” project, see Zornitsa Staneva’s article.
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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

TRANSATLANTIC EDUCATOR'S DIALOGUE (TED) SERIES-Week Six

From January to May, the European Union Center invites educators from throughout the world to come together in an online setting and discuss important topics in modern educational practice and politics. As part of this discussion, students from the University of Illinois are invited to follow the discussion and write short posts about related topics on a country of interest. Lindsay Ozburn, a student in the EU Center’s Masters of Arts in European Union Studies program, will be contributing to this series through a multi-week study of Bulgarian politics and government. Her research will provide a thoughtful and helpful case study that will give TED participants a chance to see how their discussion topics are expressed in real life.

Week Six Prompt:How does your country approach higher education? What is the student debt situation like? How many colleges and universities does the country have? Are any of them world-renown / famous? How is the transition between their high-school analogue and university handled? Do students frequently get scholarships, or do they tend to pay for themselves? Do good students get automatic acceptance into public universities?

Bulgaria in Higher Education

Like many EU member states, Bulgaria has been steadily making progress in higher education reform in the 1990s, driven by Bulgaria’s necessity to revitalize their economy and labor force. 
According to the Fulbright Office of Bulgaria, the country has 51 accredited higher education institutions – 37 public, and 14 private. There are four different types of higher education institutions: Higher Education College, University, Specialized Higher Education Institution, and Academy. Admission to these higher schools, in general, requires entrance exams and a diploma from a completed secondary education. Admission requirements do vary, though, depending on the nature of the higher education institute (i.e., technical schools have different requirements than university).

Cost of living and attending higher education institutes in Bulgaria is very low, compared to the United States, making attending a university more feasible for individuals in the middle class. Tuition rates in the mid 2000s were between 2,500 and 5,000 euros, depending on the school (tended to be more expensive at trade schools). No recent (within the past few years) data is available on student loan debt ratios, from what I can dig up in English; but, in the early 2000s, scholars began suggesting Bulgaria implement a stronger student loan program to accommodate students from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds. Since Bulgaria participates in an EU-wide education initiative that provides funding to schools for a variety of educational needs, it is likely that they provide more financial support than universities in the U.S. It is unclear to me, at this point, though, whether or not Bulgaria offers free tuition in any form to its citizens, like most other European nations.

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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Transatlantic Educator's Dialogue (TED) Series-Week Five

From January to May, the European Union Center invites educators from throughout the world to come together in an online setting and discuss important topics in modern educational practice and politics. As part of this discussion, students from the University of Illinois are invited to follow the discussion and write short posts about related topics on a country of interest. Lindsay Ozburn, a student in the EU Center’s Masters of Arts in European Union Studies program, will be contributing to this series through a multi-week study of Bulgarian politics and government. Her research will provide a thoughtful and helpful case study that will give TED participants a chance to see how their discussion topics are expressed in real life.

Week Five Prompt: Please write about your country's immigration policy, esp. now during the current refugee crisis. How many refugees have they let in, and how many more do they plan to admit? What sort of migrants (if any)? Is it their decision, or is your country being compelled by the European Union? Is there support for this additional immigration in the country you are studying? Has there been a far right party backlash?

Bulgaria and the refugee crisis

Up until the recent immigration crisis, Bulgaria applied the EU’s visa policy to its national law since January of 2007. Bulgaria, however, is not part of the Schengen Zone – the EU’s transnational free travel zone that is now, due to the refugee crisis, at risk. Since Bulgaria does not participate in the Schengen Zone, only national visas are issued, and these do not necessarily allow travel into the EU. According to the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, foreign visitors entering Bulgaria must be in possession of regular foreign travel documents, as well as a visa if planning any length of stay (Visa C or D) or for airport transit (Visa A). Visas must be submitted at least 3 months ahead of time. According to the site, persons applying for long stay visas under asylum or in relation to refugee status are not required to provide extensive document when applying for the visa.

Having signed and ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and cooperating with EU law implementation, Bulgaria produced a national law called the ‘Law on Asylum and Refugees’ (LAR) to cope with forced migration. Under the LAR, there are four types of protection for immigrants seeking asylum: asylum, refugee statues, humanitarian status, and temporary protection. For the purposes of the current refugee crisis: asylum is granted to those persecuted for reasons of their convictions or expression of rights and freedoms; refugee status is granted to those who have a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, social circles, or political opinion and does not have protection in their home country; humanitarian status is granted due to forced migration under threat of serious harm; and temporary protection is granted “in the event of mass influx of foreign nationals who are forced to leave the country of origin as a result of an armed conflict, civil war, foreign aggression, large-scale violations of human rights, or violence in the territory” (Migrant Citizenship Education, Bulgaria).

With all of this information, how does Bulgaria actually handle the Syrian refuges? According to many reports, Syrian refugees avoid settling in Bulgaria because there is little to no monetary of physical aid available to them; nor are the welcomed or wanted in the country (Ayres, 2015). But, Bulgaria has accepted their refugee quota imposed by the EU, processing 10,600 asylum requests by August of 2015. Riddled with corruption, a weak economy, and anti-refugee sentiment at the moment, the country is not a viable place to start a new life. If there is funding support from the EU, it is not being disseminated to the refugees, who are being housed in former Communist party buildings and given meager living stipends. Additionally, while these refugees have the option and right to attend school, immigrant integration programs are few and far between.

To stem some of the illegal migration, Bulgaria erected a barbed-wire fence along the Turkish border and increased patrols. As of January 2016, the UNHCR has been extremely concerned over the safety of refugees attempting to cross the Bulgarian borders due to several reported deaths. They also remained concerned due to multiple reports of abuse and extortion against refugees seeking asylum in Bulgaria (UNHCR). Like many other conservative EU member states, it is possible Bulgaria does not welcome these refugees due to differences in religion. Unfortunately for those with anti-refugee sentiments, the crisis is not predicted to stop anytime soon. As one of the gatekeeper countries to the EU, Bulgaria is in very serious need of physical and monetary assistance to help both usher those refugees seeking passage to northern Europe and provide humane assistance to those wishing to settle in the country.
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Saturday, March 5, 2016

Transatlantic Educator's Dialogue (TED) Series-Week Four

From January to May, the European Union Center invites educators from throughout the world to come together in an online setting and discuss important topics in modern educational practice and politics. As part of this discussion, students from the University of Illinois are invited to follow the discussion and write short posts about related topics on a country of interest. Lindsay Ozburn, a student in the EU Center’s Masters of Arts in European Union Studies program, will be contributing to this series through a multi-week study of Bulgarian politics and government. Her research will provide a thoughtful and helpful case study that will give TED participants a chance to see how their discussion topics are expressed in real life.

Week Four Prompt: Please write about your country's youth employment situation, remedies, and the availability of youth programs in general.

Bulgaria’s Youth

Youth unemployment, defined as ages 15-29 by the National Youth Strategy (2020), has been very high in Bulgaria. Statistics from 2015 report the highest percentage at 22.5% unemployed in March 2015, and its lowest at 20.4% unemployment in September (tradingeconomics.com). According to the Employment, Social Affairs, & Inclusion report, Unemployment appears to be slightly decreasing since 2014. However, with the Eurozone in flux, these numbers likely change with every quarter.

In response to this high unemployment rate, the Bulgarian government partakes in and EU-wide program to support young people not in employment or educational training, in regions with unemployment rates above 25%. This program, The Youth Employment Initiative (2012), is support by the European Commission to implement the Youth Guarantee schemes. Under Youth Guarantee, member states are encouraged to put measures in place to ensure good quality employment offers, continued education, or an apprenticeship/traineeship within four months of leaving school or being unemployed (EU Commission).

For the year 2014-2015, Bulgaria, with support from the European Commission and several other countries, requested an advance of one billion euros to the YEI, for use by all member states. This was meant to speed up the implementation time for the Youth Guarantee scheme created by the EU institutions. The funding can directly support high-quality traineeships and apprenticeships (the meaning of ‘support’ is unclear), placement for first job post-college, start-up support for young entrepreneurs, and educational training. According to the Country Sheet on Youth Policy in Bulgaria, (2012), the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Science is responsible for youth initiatives and programs, including their implementation. The Ministry’s goal is to make Bulgaria attractive to all young people by establishing economic and educational opportunities.
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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Transatlantic Educator's Dialogue (TED) Series - Week Three

From January to May, the European Union Center invites educators from throughout the world to come together in an online setting and discuss important topics in modern educational practice and politics. As part of this discussion, students from the University of Illinois are invited to follow the discussion and write short posts about related topics on a country of interest. Lindsay Ozburn, a student in the EU Center’s Masters of Arts in European Union Studies program, will be contributing to this series through a multi-week study of Bulgarian politics and government. Her research will provide a thoughtful and helpful case study that will give TED participants a chance to see how their discussion topics are expressed in real life. 

Week Three: Prompt – Please write about your country's educational systems and relationship to EU. Focus in particular on its structure, both within the government and within the actual system (ie: how do they organize their school levels?)  

Bulgaria’s education sector

Across the EU, member states are supported by the Directorate General for Education and Culture, who is responsible for policy and the management of initiatives – most notably, the Erasmus+ program. They are to support member states in developing coherent policies for: schools, vocational education and training, higher education, and adult education (EU Commission). According to the Fulbright Bulgarian American Commission for Education Exchange, the education system in Bulgaria is supported and governed through the Ministry of Education and Science on the member state level. They and the DG for Education and Culture create and implement education policy, working together to achieve EU-wide goals of improving educational standards and completion rates.

School systems in Bulgaria consist of public and private sectors, similar to the US. Public secondary
http://www.fulbright.bg/en/educational-services/educational-services-for-visiting-us-schools/educational-system-of-bulgaria/#prettyPhoto
Table 1 Fulbright Bulgarian American Commission for Education Exchange
schools include: general education, vocational, language schools and foreign schools. Additionally, there are fifty-one higher education institutions in Bulgaria for undergraduate and graduate (Master’s and PhD) degrees. This chart shows a comparison of age-to-grade levels, as well compulsory and basic education levels.

Education in Bulgaria is compulsory – or, required by law – from the ages of 7-16. Basic education (grades 1-8) are divided in two parts: primary school (grades 1-4) and pre-secondary school (grades 5-8). The upper secondary level following the receipt of a Basic Education Completion Certificate is broken down into three types of schools: comprehensive (general) secondary schools, profile-oriented schools (literature, mathematics, humanities, etc.), and vocational-technical schools. Secondary education is a stepping stone a job within a particular trade or to university. In higher education, there are four types of institutions: Higher Education College, University, Specialized Higher Education Institutions (technical schools), and Academy. Higher Ed offers degrees for: “Specialist in…”, First or Bachelor’s, Second or Master’s, and Third or PhD. (See Fulbright site for more info). Schools are accredited by the Ministry of education and Science of the Republic of Bulgaria and various other accreditation agencies.

Primary and pre-secondary (basic education level) is free in public schools. Curriculum is unified for all schools, include private. There are no honors or advanced placement courses in the school system; but, students are required to taken advanced courses in the last two years of secondary school. Like education in the U.S., the school year is divided into two terms, starting in the Fall and Spring, ending in Winter and Summer. Students are given grades at the end of each semester, based on a 6.0 scale (equivalent to 4.0 to the American system):

6 (A)= Excellent (91.5-100%)
5 (B) = Very Good (80.5-91.4%)
4 (C)= Good (70.5-80.4%)
3 (D)= Sufficient (59.5-70.4%)
2 (F)= Poor (0-59.4%)

 However, as a matter of policy, schools do not rank or rate their students as a whole like the American system does.

School completion rates, particularly among the Roma, have been low compared to other areas in the EU. In the European Commission’s 2015 Education and Training Monitor on Bulgaria, it is noted that Bulgaria has not yet adopted its School Education Act, meant to address these issues. This act would assist with their higher (in comparison to the EU as a whole) under achievement rates, low job placement post-university, and would “provide a framework for implementing the comprehensive reforms needed in the school system, including modernizing curricula and improving teach training” (European Commission, 2015: 3). While this may be the case, according to statistics in the report, Bulgaria has been improving their numbers more rapidly than the EU as a whole, across the board. As the Europe 2020 goal grows closer, I will be eagerly watching Bulgaria’s progress within the education sector.
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