iPRAKTIKUM internship enhances philosophy student's confidence as teacher

September 27, 2023 by Sean McNeely - A&S News

What was a philosophy student doing standing in front of a high school German class?

He wanted to engage in the practice of Zurückgeben, which means “giving back,” by sharing his passion and knowledge of German language and culture.

Now in his fourth year as a philosophy specialist, and a member of St. Michael’s College, Diego Bay-Cheng took part in the iPRAKTIKUM internship program hosted by the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures.

iPRAKTIKUM is an experiential learning initiative that helps students find impactful internships that promote global fluency and cultural competence. Open to all students at U of T, placements are available at local schools and businesses in Toronto and Germany.

“iPRAKTIKUM has always had the ambition to serve students across the university, not just those completing programs in our Department,” says Stefan Soldovieri, chair of the department.

“We’ve placed many students in fields from computer science to commerce who may have taken only a few German courses or simply already had a certain level of proficiency in the language.”

From October 2022 to April 2023, Bay-Cheng joined the German language classes at University of Toronto Schools (UTS), lead by teacher Nicola Townend, who runs UTS's German program and also teaches French.

“I was able to sit in on the beginner, intermediate and senior German classes,” says Bay-Cheng. “Nicola was very helpful in laying out what was expected from me as an intern, but also in showing me all sorts of things that you only see on the ground in the classroom.”

He enjoyed sitting in the classes, helping students with their reading, grammar and pronunciation. Just as rewarding, he was also given the chance to see an experienced teacher at work, learning valuable skills with respect to course structure, lesson planning and assignment design.

“Observing the dynamic between teachers and students from the teacher’s perspective is not something I had ever done until then, since I've always been a student,” says Bay-Cheng. “So it's fun to be on the other side of that.”

He also appreciated Townend’s approach to her classes, injecting lessons and exercises with information about German politics, history, film, music, art and pop culture.

“For one assignment students prepared German food, and others went to the thrift store to put together a German outfit,” says Bay-Cheng.

So what did this internship give him?

“Confidence in the classroom,” says Bay-Cheng. “Confidence in being able to go around and speak with students who aren't that much younger than myself.”

Proof of this confidence can be found in his being accepted to the 2023–24 Socrates Project that offers senior undergraduate students the chance to become teaching assistants for the Introduction to Philosophy — Historical course.

“They have nine spots every year for upper-year undergraduate students and it’s a competitive program,” says Bay-Cheng. “I was able to get in, in large part, because of the iPRAKTIKUM program.”

Originally from Buffalo, New York, Bay-Cheng’s love of German language and culture started as a young child.

As early as the fourth grade, he was enrolled in a Waldorf School — a private school system created in Germany in the early 20th century, based on the insights, teachings and principles of education outlined by the world-renowned artist and scientist, Rudolf Steiner.

Fast forward to high school where Bay-Cheng participated in the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange in 2018 when he was 17 years old.

“It's a program run between the U.S. State Department and the German Bundestag,” says Bay-Cheng. “Every year they send 50 Americans and 50 Germans back and forth, on a fully funded scholarship opportunity.

“I spent one year in Berlin with that program and that really solidified my language background. I had taken some German classes before, but when you're living right in the country that's where you really pick things up. When I got to U of T, I didn't forget everything, so I took some of their courses. When I learned about iPRAKTIKUM, I thought it would be a great opportunity to give back.”

His experiences proved valuable to Townend’s students.

“Diego's story of how he came to German from a non-German speaking background and his insights from his time in Berlin were intriguing and insightful for our learners, who also primarily come from families with no prior connection to the language,” says Townend.

“He was a reminder that language is a tool to access new cultures and mindsets in a deeper way than one can as a tourist who doesn't speak the language.”

Finishing his degree this year, Bay-Cheng intends to apply to graduate studies, with an eye on a master’s program with the Department of Classics that focuses on ancient philosophy.

“I'm hoping to spend the next couple of years primarily working to develop my competence with the Greek and Latin language and then to go back to do a PhD in ancient philosophy.”

As he sets his sights on graduate studies, Bay-Cheng strongly encourages undergraduate students to reap the benefits of internships like iPRAKTIKUM.

“This internship has given me the opportunity to learn things that you wouldn't be able to learn in the classroom,” he says. “And even though I'm not looking to work as a grade school teacher, I was able to learn things that are applicable to my interests. I think it's great to take these opportunities that you have as a student and get as much out of them as you can.”