Featured Traveler: Russ Smith

The Center for International Understanding, through its many programs, has given North Carolina teachers and community leaders the opportunity to travel all over the globe. They have gained perspectives on education and community building in other countries, and applied that knowledge to their own communities throughout North Carolina. More than 8,000 individuals have traveled to 48 countries with a CIU delegation. In this special blog series, we’ll feature delegates that are making a difference in their community and applying what they learned from a CIU program.

This month, we get to know Russ Smith, the center director at Kneedler Child Development Center at Western Carolina University.


Global Teachers: Sweden 2003

Describe your background

I’m the center director at Kneedler Child Development Center at Western Carolina University. My background is environmental education, elementary education and early childhood education.

What have you gained by participating in the program?

From my visit to Sweden, I gained a renewed hope for humanity. I was so fortunate to observe, feel, and be a part of the culture of Sweden as they expressed their concern and the importance of their future, the children!

How have you applied what you learned in your own community?

I obtained a copy of Sweden’s preschool curriculum, the Laraplan. I found the Laraplan focuses more on the self-esteem of the child rather than letters and numbers, and have noticed Swedish educators focus on the child as an intelligent individual and value their opinion. I now share my experience of Sweden’s early childcare with my colleagues, professors of early childhood education at Western Carolina University.

What was your “ah ha” moment?

My “ah ha” moment was when we observed a preschool. The interior classroom wasn’t supplied with any pricey, plastic toys and the door to the outside natural play area was open. The children could go inside and outside as they pleased. I observed this and remarked, “The kids are free to explore and express themselves.” In fact, the opinions of the children are considered as important as the adults’.

Why is CIU’s Global Teachers Program important to North Carolina?

The CIU’s Global Teachers program allows our teachers the opportunity to experience a deeper understanding into the diversity of humanity’s cultures. It opens the door for diversity, acceptance and understanding, if you allow it to.

Advice for Future Travelers

Walk around with a friend. Spend time with the locals, conversing and sharing thoughts. Open your mind and heart. Love the experience!