MENOMONIE — When Samantha Martell was young, instead of playing house she would play school, an interest that became the root of her studies as a student at University of Wisconsin-Stout and a temporary American teacher in Europe.
Martell, a senior majoring in marketing and business education, brought her teaching skills this summer to Daugavpils, Latvia, spending a month in northern Europe mentoring 13 children at the Daugavpils American Camp.
Inspiration came to Martell after attending high school in Somerset. Kathy Murphy, Martell's former English teacher, was preparing to attend the camp for her 17th year this year. Encouraged by a friend, Martell contacted Murphy.
Murphy accepted Martell's proposal and was ready to teach with a few familiar faces.
"Two of the teachers who went taught me in high school," Martell added.
Martell desired her own students before she begins student teaching this fall at St. Croix Central High School in Hammond. Her reasons were also heightened by her desire for a challenging and immersive atmosphere. Differences in customs, language and other forms of culture presented opportunities for Martell to learn, to make mistakes and to prepare for an American classroom.
Professor Debbie Stanislawski, program director for marketing and business education, is one of many to support Martell's work.
"This opportunity to really understand the people of Latvia with education as the centerpiece will give her perspectives and appreciation of the Latvian culture and customs that she can bring to her future teaching endeavors," Stanislawski said.
Martell wasn't sure what to expect when it came to communicating. The language barrier - Latvians speak the language of their neighbors to the east, Russia - was evident, but the environment allotted enough flexibility for her to communicate with her students.
Daugavpils is in southern Latvia, which is one of the Baltic states.
Student translators helped with complex conversations and interactions. She did learn a few words in Russian, but most were for basic exchanges outside of the classroom: thank you, hello, goodbye and even a few numbers.
Martell used her time and creativity to introduce children to her culture. She helped other teachers plan Christmas and Halloween activities, sing-alongs, dances, puzzles and even what she and the other teachers referred to as States Day.
"Each of us teachers had to pick a state, and we represented and decorated our rooms with that state. Mine was Colorado," Martell said.
In retrospect, each lesson was created to develop the students' English levels, Martell said.
However, it wasn't long before teacher became student. Despite Martell and other teachers organizing lessons for the Latvian students to explore American topics, one day was designated to the Latvian culture: games, traditional dances, cuisine and language. The students were teaching.
"They totally ran the whole show," Martell said.
As a teacher and role model for her homeroom, it was important for Martell to build a strong relationship with each student by, first, learning their names in Russian.
The relationships that developed between Martell and the students grew stronger throughout her stay, she said.
Since saying her goodbyes, Martell's interest in the Latvian culture and the camp has continued to grow. She hopes to return in the near future for more hands-on experience with Latvian children.
Formore information about the marketing and business education program at UW-Stout, go to www.uwstout.edu/programs/bsmbe.