Eastern Michigan University Fulbright Scholar professor creates virtual exchange program and conference to connect U.S. and Slovakian teacher candidates

Zuzana Tomaš in Slovakia

YPSILANTI – Eastern Michigan University TESOL professor, Zuzana Tomaš, has spent nearly a quarter century living and working in Slovakia and the same amount of time living and working in the US. After working with students in both countries over the years, she discovered students enjoyed an international experience. This resulted in a virtual exchange program, an international preservice teacher virtual conference, and a new study abroad program in Slovakia.   

Zuzana Tomaš in Slovakia
A Fulbright U.S. Scholar, Tomaš spent much of the 2021-2022 school year in Slovakia and is developing a 2024 study abroad program based on an effective model in Montenegro.

A Fulbright U.S. Scholar, Tomaš spent much of the 2021-2022 school year in Slovakia conducting research, teaching, and carrying out professionals projects – including working closely with the Anglistika and Amerikanistika (English and American) department at the Univerzita Mateja Bela v Banskej (Matej Bel University), a public research university in central Slovakia. 

After working with students in both countries over the years and taking two groups of EMU students abroad for study abroad programs, Tomaš said she “saw first-hand how much these international experiences mean to EMU students on so many levels.” Hence the creation of a virtual exchange program with the help of her co-creator, Anna Slatinska,  professor at Matej Bel University (MBU) in Slovakia. 

“The virtual exchange program provides an opportunity through which students can experience immersing themselves in an international collaboration, but without the expenses and logistics associated with study abroad programs.” Tomaš describes it. 

As part of the virtual program, EMU sophomore teacher candidates in Tomaš’ “Introduction to Working with Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Learners” TESOL course teamed up with MBU teacher candidates to develop and teach English lessons on the topic of well-being to Slovakian English learners, most of which came from economically disadvantaged families in Slovakia, for free.

The 54 EMU and MBU teacher candidates that participated conducted the lessons via Zoom, taking participants through activities and breakout rooms. The program allowed participants to learn about well-being, practice speaking in English, meet new people, try online learning and learn new vocabulary.

Post-program evaluation showcased high levels of English learner satisfaction – all participating students rated the program as effective. Teacher candidates also had the chance to share their reflections about the program in an evaluation afterward. 

“I loved everything about this project,” said Ashlie Lafontaine, an EMU teacher candidate participant.  “I truly think that it is a great opportunity and I feel like every new teacher should go through this experience once before becoming a teacher. It is by far my favorite class here at Eastern, " one of the reflections said. 

Another reflection shared that a teacher candidate enjoyed “putting together a lesson plan that participants will understand and stay engaged when learning.”

Overall, students and participants agreed – the program was impactful and beneficial on many levels. 

Beyond the virtual exchange program, Tomaš has also created another unique way for students from the two universities to connect virtually and further collaborate. 

“Our students work so hard on their class projects, but outside of being graded by a professor, their work is rarely appreciated and shared more broadly or with an authentic audience of future teachers,” said Tomaš.  “After discussing this with Professor Slatinksa, who had also recognized this educational void, we came up with the idea for the International Conference for Preservice English Teachers (ICPET).”

The ICPET, which is in its third year, aims to create a friendly professional development opportunity for pre-service TESOL teachers and cultivate the culture of idea-sharing across cultural and academic contexts.

Students from both EMU and MBU can apply to present during the conference. Teacher candidates can share their class project and engage peers in feedback and questions if chosen.

The 2023 ICPET conference will take place on Nov. 27. To learn more about the conference, visit the ICPET homepage. 

For students who dream of visiting Slovakia, Tomaš is working hard to develop a 2024 study abroad program based on an effective model in Montenegro where EMU students will have an opportunity to teach English learners in person, visit schools in another country, interact with English teachers and school administrators, and make memories that will last a lifetime.

About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 14,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and its graduate school. National publications regularly recognize EMU for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. Visit the University’s rankings and points of pride websites to learn more. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website. To stay up to date on University news, activities and announcements, visit EMU Today.

May 24, 2023

Written by:
Morgan Mark

Media Contact:
Melissa Thrasher