Author Archives: Maggie Wunderlich

Montenegrins – Brave, NOT Aggressive

Generous, caring and brave are some of the words that describe the people I met during my EMU Study Abroad in Ulcinj, a small town on the southern coast of the breathtakingly beautiful country of Montenegro.  My positive experiences with Montenegrins will resonate with me forever and here are a few examples:

  • There are no words to fully thank Silvija, who is hugely responsible for opening her native Montenegro to us. As busy as she was, she graciously educated us on the culture, answered even our silliest questions, and went above and beyond to ensure the program’s success. Who does this? A Montenegrin does!
  • My daughter and I were whisked off on an unforgettable late afternoon tour by Medina, a gregarious woman who wears many hats, including being a local English teacher. Knowing how busy Medina is, I kept thanking her and telling her to go home to her lovely family. She insisted that she wanted us to experience some of her favorite places and continued to grace us with her time, energy, and fun personality. Oh, and we saw INCREDIBLE areas that we probably would not have seen on our own. Who does that? A Montenegrin does!!
  • One of our local drivers (we called Joseph) opened car doors, patiently waited for us to have our morning coffee at the local bakery, happily agreed to our often-inconvenient requests of driving ALL OVER, made helpful connections for us, and MUCH more — with a smile and without keeping the meter running. In fact, on numerous occasions, Joseph refused to charge us for short trips! Who does that? A Montenegrin does!!
  • The staff at the Copacabana Beach Restaurant graciously treated our entire Study Abroad team of teachers to a delicious dinner – just to thank us for being teachers! Who does this? You got it. A Montenegrin does!!

I have countless more stories like these. Needless to say, I was appalled to hear anyone describe Montenegrins as aggressive. That was quite the opposite of my experience and anyone who takes the time to get to know the people would surely agree with me.

Thank you to the lovely people of Montenegro!


Montenegro – Day 3 and beyond

Unbelievable! The clear blue color of the water in the Adriatic Sea is mesmerizing!

Days 3  and 4 of my Study Abroad were filled with teaching, sunbathing, and exploring. The school and our apartment are located in Stoj, which are basically suburbs of  Ulcinj,

My morning routine is to walk down the street (about 10 minutes) to the bakery, have a fattening breakfast of  Burek or other delicious pastry, and of course COFFEE.  We ask for “American” coffee and it’s a hit-or-miss because they basically bring out whatever they feel like it — usually cappuccino.  (By the way, I tried Turkish coffee, which is super thick and nothing like American. Let’s just say it’s not for me.)

After sitting for a few minutes (since they don’t like to give  “to-go” cups), we start the hike over to the school. On the way, we encounter several animals, including COWS, sheep, cats, and dogs. Oh, and there’s a rooster singing his song nearby. The cows stare you down and are basically grazing wherever they want. The stray dogs have clipped ears — I was told it’s to show that they are neutered/spayed and safe.

The hike to the school (from the bakery) is about twenty minutes. I’m loving the exercise, but we had a couple of rainy mornings and I was totally not prepared! Luckily my roomie bought an umbrella for me. So sweet!!

The kids are adorable! They absolutely love everything we do, but they especially LOVE a particular song that is now forever engraved in my dreams — Baby Shark!  They beg us to let them sing it EVERY DAY! These kids are so eager to learn that they show up 30 minutes early every day…in the summer!

Basically, after school, I am either doing lesson plans, homework or sneaking off to an adventure like the beach or the downtown, which they call City Center.  I also went to nearby towns called Budva and Kotor. Both of these places had cobble-stoned streets and little quaint shops and restaurants.  So fun!

On the weekend, I went off to Croatia with four other teachers. It’s an adventure just to get there since we had to catch a ferry and go through customs.  Once we got settled in, we explored Old Town, where Game of Thrones was filmed! So exciting. We also went on a private boat tour and stopped at three islands. At one of the islands, we swam inside a cave, which had the most beautiful blue water I’ve ever seen!

After that amazing trip, it was back to work on Monday morning and, even though I was exhausted, the kids’ enthusiasm made me forget how tired I was. I even played soccer (for a hot sweaty couple of minutes.} The weather warmed up quite a bit, which made our morning walks difficult. And sweaty.

Tuesday afternoon, about 15 of us ventured out to Ada Bojana Beach. It was the BEST day! We hung out at the beautiful beach and then hopped on a boat to get dinner at a seafood restaurant. The staff was attentive and the food was yummy! We were all so happy with our little adventure.

Today (Wednesday) was interesting. We were told the power was going to go out for the whole city. Why? Who knows? Then we found out that it’s not happening. Meanwhile, there were two earthquakes in neighboring Albania and many people said they felt it here.  (I didn’t.) Later in the after school, all of us were treated to a special dinner cruise by one of the locals. It was relaxing and a fun way to end our week. Well, almost. Our last day of school is tomorrow and then on Friday, the kids will perform for all the top officials in the area. Oh boy. I’m going to miss these kids!

Stay tuned. for Rome…


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Posted by on July 4, 2018 in Uncategorized


Montenegro – Day 2



Excited faces and voices crowded the foyer of the Montenegrin elementary school and then suddenly it was time! This is what we’ve been preparing and waiting for! Originally we had 16 and as if by magic, we now had 26 eager 3rd/4th graders.  The classroom was smaller than my own classroom back home and we literally could not squeeze another desk or chair. Despite the large sized group, the students behaved so well and we had no behavior issues. It was a productive and fun-filled day! They were all still smiling at the end of the day, so this was definitely a successful first day! I loved every minute of it! More about the kids later.

Later in the afternoon, we hit the beach. The beaches in this area have funny names. This one was called Copacabana! The sand was a dark gray color and very soft. The water looked a brilliant blue (more pictures coming soon), and the sun was hot — until the clouds started getting darker and we finally made a run for a beach cafe when a sandstorm practically threw us at it.  More on the food another time.

Here are some observations and things I’ve learned about the culture and community, so far:

  • Montenegrins don’t buy coffee on the go.  On our walk to the school, I stopped for a quick breakfast bite and wanted my coffee in a “to-go” cup. They laughed at me and amongst each other for a minute before handing me a tiny cup with the coffee, which was delicious, by the way).  I guess they don’t believe in Starbucks here and are not upset about it.
  • Cows roam free on the streets. I saw at least 4 cows on this same morning walk. So cool. They didn’t bother us at all as we basically walked around them on the path. I love cows!
  • The kids in our class are VERY SIMILAR to the kids back home. They love many things and especially SOCCER (they say football) and DOGS! They loved EVERYTHING we did with them and especially anything with music, dancing, singing, movement,  and interactions with partners or in small groups.
  • The kids here do the FLOSS dance too!! If you’re not a teacher or a parent, you may not be familiar with it — omg! Youtube is most likely behind this! Ditto with FLIPPING water bottles — well, only one kid was doing this, but it’s a fad I’m glad is mostly over in the U.S.

My jet-lagged brain needs a break…more tomorrow! And yes, more pictures too…



Montenegro – Day 1

I made it! As I write this, I still can’t believe how everything aligned so perfectly well. First, I arrived at Detroit airport three hours prior to departure. I discovered that the airport has a Leo’s Coney Island and it serves WINE! After a glass of Moscato, I began to relax and begin to truly get excited about my overseas adventure and fortunate to have my daughter along for the ride. Priceless!

Our nine-hour flight was excellent. Aside from minor expected turbulence here and there, it was a smooth flight. My daughter thought it was quite the bumpy ride, but I’ve been in much much worse. One thing about flying on KLM to Italy — they want to feed you almost the entire way! We had snacks, a full meal, endless drinks, including WINE, dessert, more snacks, and even breakfast! I appreciated the sleeping masks and decent choices of movies — I finally watched A Wrinkle in Time, Pitch Perfect 3, and some parts of other movies. I did not fall asleep, but then I usually can’t when I’m flying AND I was still worried if I’d make my connecting flight to Montenegro.

So…we arrived in Rome a couple of minutes early, like 9:00 am, and my flight to Montenegro (on a different airline) starts boarding at 9:20 am and departs at 10:00 am. THE STRUGGLE IS REAL. As you can imagine, clad with only our backpacks, my daughter and I (politely) charged through to the door as soon as it was possible. Passengers and crew were accommodating and we were the first to get off the plane. Buongiorno! The Italian airport was easy to navigate and within minutes, we were at our gate! To my relief, we did not have to go through customs and made the time for boarding! We were shuttled on a bus a few miles over to our plane. Talk about sweating a hundred buckets, but we settled in for the short flight and I was able to finally BREATHE.

The short flight to Montenegro was uneventful (yay!) and customs was a piece of cake. Of course, since we were warned about pickpockets in these situations, I was a bit paranoid at times and didn’t completely relax until we were picked up by our van driver (arranged by our amazing EMU professors).

First impressions of Montenegro — the mountains are simply gorgeous and I can see how the country got its name – black mountains. During the bumpy and curvy hour and a half bus ride to our apartments in Ulcinj, we saw picturesque sceneries of mountains and deep blue beaches. My jetlagged brain can’t think of the perfect words to describe everything, but I promise I’ll post pictures soon.

One thing I discovered on the bus, however, is that I get motion sickness! Really? Luckily I was surrounded by an entire bus of teachers and they were so supportive and helped me get through it (or should I say “threw-up” it — yikes!).

Soon we settled into our apartments and after a heavenly shower, I was beginning to feel better and tagged along for a grocery trip and then later met everyone for dinner at the Flora restaurant. The Montenegrins know how to cook! The food was delicious and we ate like queens! Seriously.

Day 1 was a traveling day and I’m just thankful I made it and my luggage did too. I went to bed about 10:00 pm and (unfortunately) I’m up now when I should be SLEEPING.

Tomorrow we get to meet the children.  I’m so excited…stay tuned.


Study Abroad Countdown….1 day to go


Soon I will be in a foreign land and utterly and completely jet-lagged. I will experience culture shock, be working, and feel 1,000 years old in every crevice of my body. All the while, I’ll be smiling like the summer sun behind a cloud. Why? I will be learning about a different culture and, hopefully, making a positive impact on a group of children. Where am I going and why? MONTENEGRO! It’s for a Study Abroad for the TESOL graduate program at Eastern Michigan University in which I get to teach English to Montenegrin children. I get to do this within a brief walk to a hot vacation beach spot. Oh, did I forget to mention, the gorgeous beaches!!!

I’d never heard of Montenegro before now. Most people I’ve spoken with hadn’t heard of it either unless they’re from that part of Europe. To the north, Montenegro borders Serbia, while in the southeast, it borders Kosovo and Albania, and to the west are Croatia and Bosnia. Here’s a Google map to show where’s it’s located in proximity to the U.S.:


My suitcase is mostly packed and I’m a bit of a nervous wreck (due to a too short layover from Rome to Montenegro — ugh — will I miss my connecting flight?), but MOSTLY I’m super excited!! What an opportunity!! I know it will be a life-changing experience because I went on a similar trip (Educators to Japan) years ago.

Stay tuned to see if I made my connecting flight and how I endure jet-lag, but most of all, what I learn about the Montenegrin culture and how it goes with the kids. I can’t wait to meet them!!


Roadside Memorials

A mixture of sadness and curiosity washes over me every time I see a street corner adorned with a cross, teddy bear, and flowers. I have seen these roadside memorials throughout my life, but have never known anyone who personally created one. How did this practice begin? Who makes them? What is their function? Fortunately, Gary E.A. Saum’s folklore project, “Roadside Memorials: Material Focus of Love, Devotion, and Remembrance,” helps satisfy my curiosity.

Saum reports differing accounts for the origin of roadside memorials. One source traces it to the 1847 piling of stones tradition called descansos (resting places) during the Taos rebellion in New Mexico. Another source attributes it to a Mexican tradition of marking the death of a loved one with a pile of stones. Yet other evidence points to the centuries-old tradition in Latin American cultures where offerings to Catholic saints were placed at an altar or statue. Such an act is similar to roadside memorials whereby the “offerings” are left to memorialize the victim instead of giving thanks to saints. Therefore, the tradition “appear[s] to have started in the new world either as an imported Spanish tradition or as a tradition borrowed from the Spanish by the Indians” (Saum 257).

Centuries later, this tradition is currently found at the site of fatal car accidents. In Saum’s fieldwork, he interviewed grieving family members who have a roadside memorial. It was constructed the night of 17-year-old Eric’s death when Eric’s high school buddies nailed together a wooden cross, placed it at the spot of the accident, and the spot was quickly filled with mementos from other friends. About two months later, Eric’s mother added luminaries and pledged to light them every night to show her love and devotion for her son. Similar roadside memorials are seen throughout the U.S., Mexico and numerous other countries. Accordingly, making them is not limited to people with a certain nationality. Rather, they are made across cultures by “friends, family members, and loved ones to remember someone lost to them in a traffic fatality” (256).

For some people, roadside memorials represent a holy ground; for some, they are a location for prayer vigil. Yet, others consider them warnings against drinking and driving. As seen in Saum’s fieldwork, Eric’s mother views it as a place to show her dedication to Eric’s memory. Thus, a roadside memorial’s function is “as varied and individual as the person it commemorates” (258).

Saum’s folklore project helped me better understand the tradition of roadside memorials and especially about the people who create them. The heart-wrenching story, as told by the interviewees in Saum’s fieldwork, helped me relate to someone who would create a roadside memorial. Especially, I was touched by the mother’s unwavering dedication to light the candles every day. Overall, I can see how roadside memorials are about “love, devotion, and remembrance,” as this project is fittingly entitled.

Saum, Gary E.A. “Roadside Memorials: Material Focus of Love, Devotion, and Remembrance.” Living Folklore: An Introduction to the Study of People and Their Traditions. By Martha Sims and Martine Stephens. 2nd ed. Logan: Utah State UP, 2011. 255-69. Print.

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Posted by on January 27, 2017 in Family, Illness, memorial


Philosophy of Education

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” I agree with this educational quote because I believe it is more important for students to be passionate about learning than to memorize facts. In my future classroom, I want to ignite a flame in my students to love learning and seek deeper understandings instead of just retaining facts for a test. This belief is part of my personal philosophy of education, developed after considering current educational philosophies, and reflecting on my own experiences in education. My philosophy of education is valuable as a future teacher because it will affect various aspects of teaching and learning, including learning goals, teaching practices, and classroom management.

The two major and opposing philosophies of education in contemporary American schools are teacher-centered and student-centered viewpoints. Teacher-centered viewpoints include essentialism, perennialism, and behaviorism (Oakes, Lipton, Anderson & Stillman 2013). Student-centered viewpoints include progressivism, humanism, and constructivism. These viewpoints are in opposition in terms of “aims of education, educational practices, the dichotomy of authority versus freedom, and the uses of subject matter” (Witcher, Sewall, Arnold & Travers 2001). By studying these traditional and progressive educational philosophies, I decided that my personal philosophy of education is a combination of both.

Additionally, my teaching experience  has shaped my personal philosophy of education. I have worked with a diverse population, including students with zero-English, special needs, and at-risk students.

With today’s technology, students could “Google” it when they need to find out facts. For that reason, simply memorizing facts is not necessary or enough in the 21st century. More importantly, today students need to become critical thinkers and problem solvers. My overall learning goal for my students is to understand foundations of content areas instead of learning by rote. For example, they would be able to analyze the information and determine whether the information is accurate. In this student-centered progressivist viewpoint, the focus is on teaching divergent points of view and diverse subject matter (Johnson, Musial, Hall & Gollnick 2014). Students would test their ideas through experimentation and discussions. This would help students in all aspects of their lives because they would be able to solve complex problems in their personal and post-high school lives.

Furthermore,  I agree with the teacher-centered approach of essentialism in which students are taught the importance of being part of the community. Connection to community is important for developing the kind of students who will be law-abiding and responsible citizens long after they leave my classroom. Students would learn behaviors and skills needed to be productive members of society.

From my teaching experience in student teaching, building sub, and formerly as an English learner Paraprofessional, successful teaching begins with engaging all students. Without it, I have seen students lose interest and disrupt the class instead of paying attention to the lesson. No learning is accomplished. Given this, I plan to utilize several teaching practices, depending on the needs of my students and the subject matter. For example, I plan to facilitate cooperative learning in which students are given the opportunity to learn from their peers and not just from me.  I have used this student-centered approach successfully by having students work with partners and in small groups. Not only did cooperative learning engage students, but it promoted learning for all learners, especially the English learners and struggling students who learned from their peers. Moreover, “[c]ooperative learning provides students with an environment that enables them to develop as leaders who have confidence and who inspire others with their sense of individual and societal responsibility” (Williamson and Null 2008). In other words, it also helps the higher level students.

Much of my teaching practices involves similar student-centered approaches, including constructivism that “emphasizes developing personal meaning through hands-on, activity-based teaching and learning” (Johnson et al., 2014). Not only are students more engaged through this approach, but they gain a rich and meaningful connection which will help them truly learn instead of learning for a test. Moreover, I create lessons that challenge students to become critical thinkers. For example, I created a lesson where fifth graders had to analyze text for deciding where a new paragraph should begin. This was a higher-order thinking skill and challenged students. Additionally, use ongoing open-ended questions and tasks to help students learn, adapt, analyze, ponder and stimulate thinking. Overall, I create opportunities for creativity and promote meta-cognition because these not only engages students, but promote active and meaningful learning.

While most of my teaching practices will likely stem from a student-centered focus, especially constructivism, there may be times when I rely on teacher-centered ways. For example, for certain lessons about abstract subjects I could use Socratic questioning, which is based on perennialism. By using the Socratic dialogue, “learners’ beliefs are challenged by the teacher through a series of questions that lead learners to reflect on their beliefs, induce general principles, and discover gaps and contradictions in their beliefs” (Johnson et al., 2014). Consequently, I will engage students through a lively discussion, rather than lecturing.

Students often become unwilling spectators of a chaotic ping-pong match between disruptive classmates and their teacher. In the meantime, all productive learning ceases. An effective classroom management plan is essential for optimal learning and must encompass preventive, supportive and corrective strategies.  On the first day of school, I plan to use a student-centered approach in teaching behavior expectations and consequences. For example, I will involve the students in developing rules and consequences. I can model acceptance of other cultures or differences, by giving all students a voice in the discussion. After that, students will sign a class contract on chart paper that will be prominently displayed. I will send home a letter to the parent that includes my high expectations, as well as a copy of the rules and consequences and a brochure about the school’s zero tolerance for bullying. Then, during the first ten days of school, these rules and consequences will be continually and clearly explained, modeled and practiced. Students will then fully understand their limits or boundaries. If students choose to break these rules, I will consistently enforce consequences. Consistency is crucial in correcting misbehavior and/or stopping it from recurring.

Moreover, students learn best in a safe environment. To ensure this, I will have a bullying plan in place to help and educate students. For example, students may report bullying privately or anonymously (by using the bully box).  Also, I can teach students problem-solving skills, through the Leader-in-Me school wide program. With these skills, students learn to make better decisions, including to “think win-win”, “seek first to understand, then to be understood” and to “synergize”. With this support in place, disciplinary issues would decrease and the classroom would be a positive learning environment.

“Every battle is won before it’s ever fought”, by Sun Tzu, means that if one spends time preparing now, problems will be avoided later. My classroom management plan is more of a systematic approach of managing a classroom that has practices and procedures in place to prevent the disciplinary problems from beginning or continuing. This includes strategies to make it clear what is expected of students and to consistently enforce the rules with consequences. Overall, my role as the teacher is not that of a disciplinarian, but that of a manager and facilitator

The beauty of creating this philosophy of education is that I was able to “swim in the same social stream as the prophets of old, but a little farther down. The office of philosophy is to bind their times and ours together in a commonality of reflection on experience” (Walcott 1966). In other words, I can pick and choose what works with my students, based on my experience. Thus, my personal philosophy of education is a blend of traditional and progressive ideas. My learning goal would focus on developing critical thinkers, problem solvers and good citizens. This is essential for helping students become successful in their personal lives and in society as a whole. Furthermore, most of my teaching practices will involve student-centered approaches, including cooperative learning and constructivism. This will depend on the lesson and on the students. I will also use some teacher-centered practices, such as the Socratic dialogue. Lastly, my classroom management will be student-centered whereas I include students in creating rules and consequences and I plan ahead in order to prevent disciplinary issues. Overall, my personal philosophy of education is a combination of traditional and progressive ideas and will likely expand through the years. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”


Johnson, J. A., Musial, D., Hall, G. E., & Gollnick, D. M. (2014). Foundations of American

Education Becoming Effective Teachers in Challenging Times (16th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Oakes, J., Lipton, M., Anderson, L., & Stillman, J. (2013). Teaching to change the world (4th

ed.). Boulder, CO: Paradigm.

Walcott, F. G. (1966, April). Importance of a Philosophy for Teachers. Educational Leadership,  556-559.

Williamson, A., & Null, J. (2008). Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Educational Philosophy as a

Foundation for Cooperative Learning.American Education History Journal35(2), 381-           392.

Witcher, A. E., Sewall, A. M., Arnold, L. D., & Travers, P. D. (2001). Teaching,  learning: It’s all about philosophy. The Clearing House, 74(5), 277-279.

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