Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Why Students Should Study Abroad Early in their Academic Careers

By Annie Gibson

Studying abroad instills a lifelong passion for engaging in intercultural connection. In my opinion, the earlier this experience happens, the better. My first experience going abroad without my family happened when I was 13 years old. I spent the summer in Mexico working as an au pair, and that experience marked the course of the rest of my life: It influenced me to want to become fluent in Spanish and to be engaged with international education, leading me to the career that I have today.

Because of the influence that traveling abroad had on me during my early life, I am a huge proponent of immersion education. To fully grasp any subject to the point of being able to apply and manipulate that knowledge, you must be immersed in learning so fully that all senses are engaged. We try to replicate this learning on the college campus, but sometimes college can end up feeling like an academic bubble. When classroom learning is integrated with â’‘¬Å“livingâ’‘¬Â the information being discussed in class, the learning outcome is much greater. The life skill of becoming culturally bilingual, of learning to both understand and embrace differences in order to draw objective conclusions and build alliances, is one of the most important skills to develop—and it is best learned and practiced in the real world.

Living abroad gives students the opportunity to learn to adapt their body language, their spoken language, and even their written language based on cultural contexts in order to communicate more clearly who they are and what they want. If students can learn this adaptation skill it makes for more aware and more confident scholars who are better equipped for any class, career, or experience that may arise during their lifetimes.

This fall I have had the chance to meet four freshman and two sophomore students whose spirit of adventure led them to make the decision to study abroad at Tulaneâ’‘¬’“¢s first ever Early Experience Abroad in Costa Rica program. Tulane students in Costa Rica are studying and living in dormitories in CIAPA (Centro de Investigación y Adiestramiento Político Administrativo), a social science research institution located in the Curridabat neighborhood of San José. They are taking classes at CIAPA as well as at the University of Costa Rica. The classes are designed as experiential learning classes, using the urban and natural environments of Costa Rica as the classrooms.

Early experience abroad programs are a recent trend in many colleges across the country. The programs are geared at giving freshman (and some sophomore) students an exposure to international exchanges from the get-go in their college careers in order to build a more globally aware campus. Studying abroad inevitably brings the classroom outside of the Ivory Tower and into the streets, museums, buildings, and forests, creating students who see engagement with community and environment as part of the educational process.

A successful study abroad experience fosters an interest in lifetime learning that goes far beyond the four years of undergraduate higher education. Have you ever heard of a student who returned from a study abroad trip and did not have at least one life-changing experience to talk about? I havenâ’‘¬’“¢t. Traveling inevitably makes students have to think on their feet and learn the skills of budgeting, navigating new ways of socializing, and quieting the internal clashes that arise when living outside of our comfort zones. I feel lucky to be able to experience those emotions vicariously with my students this semester. I wish there had been a program such as this when I was a freshman in college; I would have surely signed up. When I studied abroad in Brazil my junior year, I came back with a whole new worldview that I wished I could have applied to my studies much earlier.

Students should study abroad as early as they can in college so that their experiences can have the greatest impact on the course of their academic lives over the next three or four years. These six students here in Costa Rica who decided to begin their college careers by studying abroad will now have the space and time to carve out an academic path back at Tulaneâ’‘¬’“¢s main campus with the new knowledge that they have gained during the inevitable life-changing moments happening while living in San José. By studying abroad freshman year, these students will be able to use their later years to focus on their major requirements or on doing more in-depth research for their senior thesis, all with the added advantage of having learned the tools of being a world citizen while living abroad. Or, even better, they could use their junior year to once again go abroad, and this time with a greater focus and purpose to their studies.

The cohort of students in Costa Rica is a self-selected group that understood the importance of global education from the moment that they filled out their college applications. It was a smart decision because the experiences that they have had in Costa Rica will add to their careers upon returning to Tulane. These students have gained a new sense of independence while navigating life in another culture. Every day events such as learning the bus schedule to get to class, finding new social groups, making purchases in another language, and learning to plan weekend trips have been activities that have built confidence and aided their maturation.

The courses that the students are taking are made more practical by being applied to field trips and to their lives in San José. By having a core group of classes that focuses on using oneâ’‘¬’“¢s surroundings, learning at CIAPA has direct repercussions in studentsâ’‘¬’“¢ daily lives. For example, when we discussed differences in colonial architecture in
Costa Rica versus other parts of Latin America, we walked through the churches of Orosi and Ujarrás, looking at how the building materials had been influenced by Costa Rican indigenous culture. The students got to secretly lift the skirts of the saints on the altar to discover that the statues were no more than a head and hands, a testament to the fact that these colonial statues had to be brought via ship and then horseback to the central valley region. The next weekend they themselves had the butt bruises to prove that they rode horseback for four hours to arrive at the Rara Avis Biological Research Center, making references to our discussions about transportation in colonial Costa Rica. They got to study climate change by walking through both rain forest and cloud forest and holding in their hands frog species that are on the verge of disappearing due to climate changes in the region. They later saw photographs of frog species that have already
disappeared. Another weekend they got to feel Costa Rican national pride by listening to President Laura Chinchilla speak at an Independence Day celebration and then another evening they experienced national pride by seeing the rivalry soccer game between Costa Rica and Mexico.

These students are also living Tulaneâ’‘¬’“¢s commitment to community service by working weekly with Fundación Acción Joven, a non-profit agency that seeks to boost high school retention rates by teaching at-risk high school students lessons that cultivate an awareness of civic identity and social responsibility. Each Tulane student has independently designed a project that forges relationships and influences directly the young students at Napoleón Quesada and Julio Fonseca high schools. Some of the projects that Tulane students have worked on are: teaching English classes, setting up a pen pal system between the high school students in the US and those in Costa Rica, creating a bilingual bookmaking project, designing the set for the theater program, and preparing a field trip for a day of games and activities at CIAPAâ’‘¬’“¢s campus for the high school students in the program.

So when I get asked the question of whether or not I think that studying abroad early is a good idea for these kids, my answer is a strong yes. One of the most frequently asked questions that I received from parents this summer as they were deciding whether or not to let their child spend their first semester of college abroad was whether their child would be able to readjust to life at Tulane after spending their freshman fall semester abroad. In terms of personal adjustment, this cohort of students in the CIAPA Fall 2012 program has learned to navigate and make friends in another culture; making friends at Tulane is going to be a breeze. As they have begun to learn about Costa Rica, not only are they getting a clearer picture of Costa Ricaâ’‘¬’“¢s connectedness to the rest of Latin America and the world, but they are also getting a clearer idea of themselves. This will help them build relationships wherever they go. Plus, the students have the added benefit of having created bonds with each other. Going through the experience of living out of the country and travelling together is the best bonding experience that there is. I am almost certain that these students will remain close over the course of their college careers, even as they take their separate paths. Each one has benefitted from the diversity of the others and they have gone through experiences together that will give them a connection that will last.

In terms of their adjustments academically, students benefit from small classroom size, interest-oriented field trips, and daily access to their professor here at CIAPA. These students are going to return to Tulane worldlier and more engaged than if they had spent their freshman fall on campus and this is going to greatly benefit Tulane. On top of that, after their freshman fall they have already forged a personal relationship with a faculty member that most students only develop after many semesters if they have the chance to develop it at all. I see this group of students every day. We eat meals together, take trips together, have classes together, and share the same common spaces. I can sit down with each one individually to talk about their writing or to discuss a reading. I learn when they had a bad day or when they are having family trouble. I know these students inside and outside the classroom just as they know me. This means that, not only do I know their strengths and weaknesses as scholars in my classroom, but I also know their interests beyond disciplines and even beyond academics. This gives me a position to be able to advise them about other faculty, classes, clubs, and programs back at Tulane that they may not have ever discovered on their own.

In this blog you will hear from these students who were brave enough to sign up for Tulaneâ’‘¬’“¢s first ever-Early Experience Abroad program. You will hear first-hand about the enriching experiences that studying abroad in Costa Rica at a young age has provided for these young scholars as academics and as people. I hope you enjoy their stories!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Annie Gibson

    Administrative Assistant Professor - Department of Global Education

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LAGO Symposium on Community-Engaged Scholarship

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The Latin Americanist Graduate Organization (LAGO) is pleased to announce its Symposium on Community-Engaged Scholarship. This full-day event will include a series of presentations featuring graduate students, faculty, and local leaders working at the intersection of academia and community. All are welcome to attend one or more of three talks. Breakfast and lunch will be provided.


SYMPOSIUM SCHEDULE

9 – 9:30 AM | Breakfast

9:30 – 11 AM | “The Role of the Arts in Community Engagement and Activism”
Moderator: Megan Flattley (Stone Center PhD Candidate)
Panelists: Dr. Jeffery U. Darensbourg (Tribal Councilperson and enrolled member of the Atakapa-Ishak Nation of Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas), Gabrielle Garcia Steib (Media Artist and Writer), Dr. Edith Wolfe (Stone Center Assistant Director for Undergraduate Programs)

11 – 11:30 AM | Break/Networking

11:30 – 1 PM | “Co-Creating Digital Testimonios with Latinx Youth: A Community-Engaged Approach to Scholarship and Action”
Presenters: Jennifer Miller Scarnato (City, Culture & Community PhD Candidate) and Rebeca Sauly Santa María Granados (Youth Member of Puentes)
Discussion Moderator: Dr. James D. Huck, Jr. (Stone Center Assistant Director for Graduate Programs and Puentes Board Member)

1 – 2 PM | Lunch

2 – 3:30 PM | “Guiding Principles and Strategies: The Social Sciences and Community Engagement”
Moderator: Carolina Timoteo de Oliveira (Stone Center PhD Candidate)
Panelists: Dr. Claudia Chávez-Arguelles (Tulane Anthropology Faculty), Ruth Idakula (Critical Race Theory & Anti-Racist Praxis educator and facilitator), and Linett Luna Tovar (Stone Center Masters Program Alumna)

3:30 – 4:30 | Networking/Wrap-up

The LAGO Symposium on Community-Engaged Scholarship is co-sponsored by the Stone Center for Latin American Studies and the Tulane Mellon Graduate Program in Community-Engaged Scholarship.

Latin American Writers Series: Damián Cabrera

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Join us for an interview with Damián Cabrera about his life, interests, and influences. The discussion will be followed by an open Q&A. This event will be held in Spanish.

About the Latin American Writers Series

This series brings together Latin America’s most representative creative voices and the editorial entrepreneurs that publish them. By way of interviews and presentations of various editorial missions, the guests will shed light on a literary world shaped by the contemporary issues of the continent. Moving forward, their conversations will comprise the centerpiece of a digital archive that introduces their ideas to a global audience.

Este serie reúne a los autores más representativos de la escritura continental y los editores que los publican. A través de entrevistas y presentaciones de proyectos editoriales, los invitados explorarán los vínculos entre el mundo literario y la realidad continental. Sus conversaciones se convertirán después en el eje de un archivo digital que busca llevar estas ideas a un público global.

About the Author

Damián Cabrera was born in Asunción Paraguay and grew up in Alto Paraná along the Brazilian border. His publications, which explore the realities of the Triple Frontier, include one collection of short stories, sh… horas de contar… (2006) and the novels Xiru (2012)—winner of the Roque Gaona Prize—and Xe (2019). Cabrera has served as editor of the journals El Tereré (2006-2012) and Ku’Ótro (2008) and is an active member of artistic organizations such as Semenario Espacio/Crítico and Ediciones de la Ura. He also teaches film at the Universidad Columbia de Paraguay and art and design at the Universidad Nacional de Paraguay.

The 2020 Dr. H. Barry and Lucy V. Holt Lecture in Ethnohistory: "City of Blood, City of Flowers: Why the Aztecs Enchant Us"

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The Stone Center for Latin American Studies, the Tulane Department of History, and the Middle American Research Institute invite you to the 2020 Dr. H. Barry and Lucy V. Holt Lecture in Ethnohistory: “City of Blood, City of Flowers: Why the Aztecs Enchant Us” presented by Dr. Davíd Carrasco.

Davíd Carrasco is the Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America at Harvard University. A historian of religions with a particular interest in Mesoamerican cities and the Mexican-American borderlands, Carrasco’s wide-ranging work has explored the challenges of postcolonial ethnography and theory as well as the practices and symbolic nature of ritual violence in comparative perspective. In conjunction with Mexican archaeologists, he has carried out research in excavations and archives associated with the sites of Teotihuacan and Mexico-Tenochtitlan resulting in books such as Religions of Mesoamerica, City of Sacrifice, To Change Place, and Quetzalcoatl and the Irony of Empire. Carrasco’s work has also traced the religious dimensions of the Latino experience, exploring themes such as mestizaje, the myth of Aztlan, transculturation, and La Virgen de Guadalupe. Most recently, Carrasco oversaw production of a documentary about his longtime friend and Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. He edited and contributed to the companion volume Goodness & the Literary Imagination. Carrasco is a recipient of the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honor the Mexican government gives to a foreign national.

The lecture is being held in conjunction with the Tulane Maya Symposium and will be followed by light refreshments before the keynote address by Dorie Reents-Budet. Both the Holt Lecture and keynote address are free and open to the public.

Latin American Writers Series: Andrea Palet

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Join us for an interview with Andrea Palet about her life, interests, and influences. The discussion will be followed by an open Q&A. This event will be held in Spanish.

About the Latin American Writers Series

This series brings together Latin America’s most representative creative voices and the editorial entrepreneurs that publish them. By way of interviews and presentations of various editorial missions, the guests will shed light on a literary world shaped by the contemporary issues of the continent. Moving forward, their conversations will comprise the centerpiece of a digital archive that introduces their ideas to a global audience.

Este serie reúne a los autores más representativos de la escritura continental y los editores que los publican. A través de entrevistas y presentaciones de proyectos editoriales, los invitados explorarán los vínculos entre el mundo literario y la realidad continental. Sus conversaciones se convertirán después en el eje de un archivo digital que busca llevar estas ideas a un público global.

About the Author

Andrea Palet is an editor, columnist, and educator from Chile. With almost three decades of experience in the publishing field, she has edited magazines and books in both Europe and South America. In 2014, she became the founding editorial director of Editorial Laurel in Santiago, Chile. Under her leadership, the house has released the works of more than 20 novelists, essayists, and chroniclers. Palet also oversees the Master of Editing program at the Universidad de Diego Portales. A collection of her columns, Leo y olvido, was released in 2018 by Ediciones Bastante.

Latin American Writers Series: Rodrigo Fuentes

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Join us for an interview with Rodrigo Fuentes about his life, interests, and influences. The discussion will be followed by an open Q&A. This event will be held in Spanish.

About the Latin American Writers Series

This series brings together Latin America’s most representative creative voices and the editorial entrepreneurs that publish them. By way of interviews and presentations of various editorial missions, the guests will shed light on a literary world shaped by the contemporary issues of the continent. Moving forward, their conversations will comprise the centerpiece of a digital archive that introduces their ideas to a global audience.

Este serie reúne a los autores más representativos de la escritura continental y los editores que los publican. A través de entrevistas y presentaciones de proyectos editoriales, los invitados explorarán los vínculos entre el mundo literario y la realidad continental. Sus conversaciones se convertirán después en el eje de un archivo digital que busca llevar estas ideas a un público global.

About the Author

Rodrigo Fuentes is a Guatemalan-born writer of short stories. He received the II Premio Centroamericano Carátula in 2014, and his collection Trucha Panza arriba was a finalist for the 2018 Premio Gabriel García Márquez . His works have been published in Guatemala, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, El Salvador, as well as in translation in France and Scotland. Fuentes is also the co-founder and editor of the magazine Suelta and of the digital publishing house and literary journal Traviesa. He currently teaches in the Department of Spanish at College of the Holy Cross.

Latin American Writers Series: Dolores Reyes

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Join us for an interview with Dolores Reyes about her life, interests, and influences. The discussion will be followed by an open Q&A. This event will be held in Spanish.

About the Latin American Writers Series

This series brings together Latin America’s most representative creative voices and the editorial entrepreneurs that publish them. By way of interviews and presentations of various editorial missions, the guests will shed light on a literary world shaped by the contemporary issues of the continent. Moving forward, their conversations will comprise the centerpiece of a digital archive that introduces their ideas to a global audience.

Este serie reúne a los autores más representativos de la escritura continental y los editores que los publican. A través de entrevistas y presentaciones de proyectos editoriales, los invitados explorarán los vínculos entre el mundo literario y la realidad continental. Sus conversaciones se convertirán después en el eje de un archivo digital que busca llevar estas ideas a un público global.

About the Author

Dolores Reyes was born in the western part of Buenos Aires. With degrees in Primary Education and Classics, she currently works as a teacher in a school in Pablo Podestá, just 150 meters from the burial sites of Melina Romero, Araceli Ramos, and the other victims of femicide who have impacted her life and writing. Her first novel, Cometierra, was published in 2019 in Argentina and Spain. It is currently being translated and edited for publication in the Netherlands, France, Italy, United Kingdom, Australia, Turkey, Poland, and the United States.