My SUSI experience was all that – and more than – I hoped it would be

Outside the ITD centre, Amherst, MA. (the author is at far left). Photo credit: Sam Englebretsen.

SUSI Summer Teacher Programme, 2019, by Sam Englebretsen.

From 8 June to 13 July I was fortunate to participate in the 2019 ‘Study of the United States Institute for Secondary Educators’ (SUSI programme) based at Amherst, Massachusetts. As part of a group of 18 secondary school teachers from all around the world, I spent five weeks engaged in many lectures, seminars, and site visits, all with the common theme of further exploring ‘Liberty, Equality, and the American Dream’. Our group was hosted by the Institute for Training and Development (ITD), and we spent our time between the ITD centre and the Amherst College campus.

The Mainstreet of Amherst, MA. (the author is at far right). Photo credit: Sam Englebretsen.
The Mainstreet of Amherst, MA. (the author is at far right). Photo credit: Sam Englebretsen.

Our schedule was certainly a packed one with, typically, lectures at Amherst College in the morning and seminars at the ITD centre in the afternoon. Lectures were delivered by a range of guest lecturers and their topics ranged from the Founding Fathers to Jazz and Culture, the US Constitution to the poetry of Emily Dickinson, FDR and the New Deal through to some of the current issues facing America and Americans. Afternoon seminars explored aspects of educational theory and practice and provided valuable forums for cross-cultural discussion and debate. Built into this busy programme were local site visits and weekend excursions to homestay families, Boston, and New York City. Additionally, all teachers were tasked with a project to develop a series of lesson plans for use in their own classrooms. As I teach History through to scholarship level at Napier Boys’ High School, my lesson plans were focused upon the 2019 History scholarship topic: ‘the role of populism as a historical force.’ Indeed, I found the additional time, research facilities, and expertise on this topic granted to me during my SUSI studies to be quite beneficial (as hopefully will my students).

The author outside the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. Photo credit: Sam Englebretsen.
The author outside the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. Photo credit: Sam Englebretsen.

As if the Amherst component of the programme was not already enough, the group spent its final week ‘out West’ in Utah before rounding-up the experience in Washington, DC. The state of Utah in the Rocky Mountains presented quite a contrast to the comfortable and leafy New England (as was the intention). Based in Salt Lake City we saw the imprint of the Mormons on the city and the state but also caught glimpses into the lives of ‘everyday’ Americans, most noticeably at the Oakley 4th of July parade and the rodeo held in the town that same evening. Hearing a heart-felt rendition of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ sung to an attentive crowd in Oakley was also a spine-tingling experience. During our time in Utah the group also visited the Capitol Reef National Park, Union Station in Ogden, and, of course, the Great Salt Lake. A few members of the group also visited the Utah State Capitol and took in a baseball game (the Salt Lake Bees v. El Paso). All too soon, it seemed, the programme concluded in the nation’s capital with a tour of the US Capitol, visiting the famous memorial sites around the National Mall, and an afternoon at the impressive and inspiring National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The author with a statue of the poet Robert Frost, a long-serving professor at Amherst College. Photo credit: Sam Englebretsen.
The author with a statue of the poet Robert Frost, a long-serving professor at Amherst College. Photo credit: Sam Englebretsen.

I would like to thank the US Department of State and the US Embassy in Wellington for allowing me the wonderful and once in a lifetime opportunity to further enhance my professional and personal experiences as afforded by this programme. I would also like to thank the ITD staff, especially Dr. Mark Protti and Dr. Katie Lazdowski, for their generosity and facilitation of all aspects of the programme. Finally, I must thank Professor Frank Couvares, the programme’s academic director, for his wisdom in class and his companionship along the way. 

Finally, to any New Zealand teachers who are contemplating applying for a SUSI scholarship in 2020, if you have an interest in America and the Americans, my advice is to go for it. You will be challenged by the intense nature and expectations of the programme, but you will also be rewarded in many ways, as I have been. Indeed, my SUSI experience was all that – and more than – I hoped it would be.

Sam Englebretsen
Teacher of History
Napier Boys’ High School

Related:

Study of the U.S. Institutes for Scholars – At a Glance. Call for applications will be in early/mid 2020.

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