Kowalczyk receives travel awards

Sandra Kowalczyk poses in front of a display featuring a Malaysian map and books with settings in destinations throughout Malaysia that she will visit this summer.

Hilton Worldwide has announced Sandra Kowalczyk, Reading Specialist and Go Global Club Advisor at Patrick Marsh Middle School, as a winner of a 2014 Hilton Worldwide Teacher Trek Program Award.

The Hilton Worldwide Teacher Trek Program, developed with the Institute of International Education (IIE), recognizes teachers who build awareness of cultural diversity within the classroom by funding them to travel internationally during the summer months to enrich curriculum and foster greater understanding between the United States and other countries.

As part of the competitive application process, K-12 teachers chose international destinations to travel, develop creative and engaging itineraries, and create a plan for bringing back their cultural experiences to their classrooms. Ten teachers were selected nationally to participate in this years’ program.

The award-winning, month-long summer adventure Kowalczyk designed will allow her to explore and experience the multi-ethnic, multi-religious tropical Southeast Asian countries of Malaysia and Singapore.

As an avid reader of global literature and an adventurous traveler, she will map out and explore the landscape of Malaysian literature. Her itinerary will take her to a myriad of destinations throughout both peninsular West Malaysia and East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo, and Singapore that serve as cultural and historical backdrops in books, particularly works penned by Malaysian authors.  

Kowalczyk plans to venture beyond the beaches and tourist sights and experience the locales the way the authors and their characters see them, as places of history and deep personal associations.

“I want to take this trip because, like many teachers, I often feel challenged when working with texts from unfamiliar cultures,” Kowalczyk said. “The insights I will gain as to how culture is embedded in everyday interactions can’t be learned from books and will be an invaluable take away from my time in Malaysia. This professional development opportunity will provide insights into modern Asian children’s literature that will greatly benefit my teaching - and, in turn, students and other educators.”

Kowalczyk will be connected with a Hilton Worldwide Cultural Ambassador before her Trek to Malaysia to learn more about the local culture and will then participate in a cultural excursion together upon her arrival in Kuala Lumpur.

Literature related destinations Kowalczyk will explore and experience during her Hilton Teacher Trek include: the heritage-filled city of Georgetown on the island of Penang; jungle-fringed landscape of tea plantations in the highlands, turtle sanctuaries on the east Malaysian coast to observe green turtles and leatherbacks toil ashore to lay eggs; learning first-hand about wayang kulit leather shadow puppets; trekking through rubber plantations and rainforests; observing orangutans and other endangered species at the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and Nature Reserve in Sarawak, East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo; ethnobotanical gardens; the port town of Malacca, with a rich history influenced by Arabs, Portuguese, Dutch and British; and near-by Singapore.

Kowalczyk’s daughter, Hannah, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in May, will accompany her on her travels.

“It will be a jam-packed trip,” said Kowalczyk, “So many books, so little time.”

People’s Republic of China

Kowalczyk has also been awarded a prestigious Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad Award which will include four weeks in the People’s Republic of China this summer.

She will visit seven cities, including: Shanghai, commercial capital of modern China; Hangzhou, intellectual capital of China; Suzhou, capital of Southern Song; Quzhou, home of the southern branch of the Confucius family; Nanjing, first capital of Ming, center of the Taiping Rebellion, and first capital of the Republic of China; Qufu, home of the northern branch of the Confucius family; and Beijing, primary capital of China since 1264.

As a Fulbright-Hays participant, Kowalczyk will learn basic Mandarin language, receive expert instruction on Chinese history, culture, and society by U.S. and Chinese specialists, visit schools and important historical sites in each city, and develop curriculum materials.

The program, Understanding Contemporary China: Collaborative Curriculum Development was created by the College of Education and Professional Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in conjunction with the Center for East Asian Studies (UW-Madison), the Confucius Institute (UW-Platteville), the Wisconsin State Department of Public Instruction, Shanghai Normal University, and Minzu University, Beijing. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Education Fulbright-Hays International Education Programs. 

This will be Kowalczyk’s third Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad Award. She previously participated in Exploring the Cultures and Social Issues of Contemporary South India (2003), coordinated by the Center for South Asia at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2003) and Education, Culture, and Multilingualism in Morocco, (2007) coordinated by the Center for International Education at UW-Milwaukee.

Lifestyle Editor of The Star newspaper in Sun Prairie, Wis.

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