Adult education students experience international professional development

For two years in a row, students in the Adult Education and Training master’s program at Colorado State University have participated in a two-week program at Julius-Maximilian University Würzburg in Würzburg, Germany.

The Winter School: International and Comparative Studies on Adult Education and Lifelong Learning program takes place at the end of the winter term at the University of Würzburg. It is designed to give international students the opportunity to learn about, analyze, and compare strategies in lifelong learning, especially from the perspective of adult education.

As an extracurricular part of their master’s program experience, Veronica Scheidler, Brent Shill, and Lauren Vilen spent two weeks focusing on the preparation for and participation in the Winter School, an experience that impacted them personally and professionally.

About the Winter School

Würzburg, Germany, at night
Würzburg, Germany, at night

The International Winter School experience is divided into three phases, with the first phase completed before arriving in Würzburg. During this time, students prepare by composing an essay on a comparative topic, coupled with preparatory readings and modules.

The second phase takes place in Würzburg during the first week of Winter School, and guides students through a week of lectures and interactive learning on theory and international policies. Students focus on topics such as social policy models of education, models for analysis, and more. Outside the classroom, students go on field visits with adult education providers in Germany to understand various social policy.

The third and final phase is completed during the second week. Students assigned the same comparative topic during the first phase work together in small groups to see how their topic differs in various intercultural perspectives. On the final day, the results of the groups’ findings are presented to both students and professors.

While studying Adult Education and Training, students also take part in outings and meet-ups to explore the city of Würzburg and to get to know one another.

“The biggest benefit from the program was probably the friendships I made,” said Shill. “Getting to know and befriend people in two weeks, and then becoming lifelong friends is the best thing that could have come from the program.”

Paving the way

Five winter School participants in front of castle
Winter School participants in front of castle

Both in their final semesters of the AET program, Scheidler and Shill were among the first American students to attend the International Winter School. Each received a scholarship to attend.

“I attended the Fifth Annual Winter School in 2018, and it was the first year the U.S. was represented,” Scheidler said. “Brent and I were happy to tread this new ground!”

Scheidler, now based in Salt Lake City, considers the program a life-changing experience. Working with students from Latvia, India, Italy and Hungary, she studied the comparative topic, “Students’ voices as teaching and learning methods in higher education and assessment”.

“I feel like the research I did to truly understand the best practices in soliciting student voices has been invaluable. I think about student voices and creating applicable learning every day I teach,” she said. “I am also grateful for the many connections I made with other education professionals around the world.”

Shill, now based in Oregon, developed a new desire to study and interact with international education throughout his time in the program. Studying the comparative topic, “National/Regional Adult Education and Lifelong Learning Policies,” he worked with students from Serbia, Hungary, Portugal, India, and the U.S.

“It wasn’t just the knowledge I was able to obtain and give back,” he said, “but it was the interaction and watching people work together to find similarities and common ground on subjects they were passionate about.”

Continuing the legacy

Lauren Vilen presents at Winter School
Lauren Vilen presents at Winter School

In 2019, Vilen attended the Sixth Annual Winter School. Originally, Vilen intended to attend in 2018 but wasn’t able to due to scheduling conflicts. When hearing about the program again, Vilen couldn’t miss the opportunity.

“It wasn’t a good fit with my schedule for 2018, so when the information was sent out for the 2019 program, I decided it was too good of an opportunity to pass up,” she said. “I love traveling to new places, and it was a chance to gain exposure to topics I wouldn’t encounter in my regular courses.”

Vilen was able to work with students from Germany, China, and Slovenia to study “Occupational Structures and Professionalization of Adult Education.” Through her studies, she was able to gain a new appreciation for the diversity of adult education models while delving more deeply into professionalization, something she had been wanting to explore in greater detail.

Creating life-changing relationships

Winter School Comparative Group
Winter School Comparative Group

While the Winter School provided amazing educational opportunities, these three alumni agree that the relationships formed were the most impactful part of the program.

“My favorite part was watching people from so many different walks of life work together and share how their countries educational programs work,” Shill said.

The opportunity to learn about Adult Education and Lifelong Learning from international and intercultural perspectives allows students to view education and their personal lives in an entirely new light. These shared experiences created a deep connection that wouldn’t be found anywhere else.

“One Sunday, the cadre of students from India insisted on cooking us all traditional Indian dishes,” said Scheidler. “They invited our professors, and we dined on incredible vegetarian dishes and the best rice pudding I have ever consumed. We ended the night blasting Bollywood standards on the hostel’s sound system and dancing our hearts out. I gained wonderful intellectual insights and valuable international perspective, but this Sunday night was surely my favorite.”

The increasing awareness around and importance of adult education was shared throughout the group of diverse students to not only educate, but to create important friendships and connections that will continue throughout life.

“The Winter School was one of the best experiences in my life,” wrote Shil on his blog. “This was an experience that has changed my life in a way I didn’t imagine. The perspectives from the wonderful people I came in contact with and became friends with can be unmatched to anything I have ever done. I can look back now and reflect on so many things that have given me a different perspective on how I look at the world and how I look at Adult Education and Lifelong Learning.”

To read more about their experiences, visit Shill’s personal blog and Scheidler’s personal blog.

The School of Education is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.