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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Kaqchikel Language Table

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Join Kaqchikel learners and speakers at all levels to practice your language skills at this bi-monthly conversation table. Hosted by expert instructor Mtro. Byron Socorec (aka Oxlajuj B’atz’), the Sept. 23 session will focus on where we come from. Bring a picture of a special place and come ready to describe your hometown.

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This event is co-sponsored by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Kansas.

Qué Vola, Nola? - Live Book Reading!

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Join us for a live bilingual reading of their book Qué Vola, Nola?. From the vibrant jazz scenes and Spanish-colonial architecture to the food and weather, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Havana, Cuba, have much in common. And they are both home to anole lizards who love jazz! After a jazz song lures Ramito through a hotel window in Havana, he crawls into in a convenient, comfy suitcase for a nap. When he awakens, Ramito can’t quite find the way back to his tree. His new friend Bernard, an American anole lizard, unsuccessfully tries to convince Ramito that he’s in New Orleans. Is he? Readers of all ages will find the lush, tropical illustrations and the frustrated refrain of “but that is something we have in Havana” endlessly entertaining. In fact, they just might agree that the cities, and their inhabitants, share a lot! We are honored to welcome local author, Abigail Isaacoff and illustrator originally from Cuba, Ramiro Díaz for a bilingual story time at both Pebbles Center locations. Check below and make sure to join us at one of these events. Families will explore this unique story and learn to create their own craft based on the book.

Saturday September 18 at 2 pm
Algiers Regional Library
3014 Holiday Drive

Saturday, September 25 at 1 pm
Children’s Resource Center
913 Napoleon Avenue

This event is a program of the Pebbles Center which is a collaborative project of the New Orleans Public Library and the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University. Please follow us on Facebook for up-to-date information on these programs. For more information, email crcrts@tulane.edu.

Teach Central America: Exploring Garifuna Culture

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Sign up by Friday, September 24 to get a copy of the up and coming book Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed which explores the Latinx diaspora.

In honor of Teach Central America Week (October 4 – 10, 2021), Tulane University presents in collaboration with Vanderbilt University and the University of Georgia an educator workshop exploring the diversity of Central America. Over the course of three years, we have produced annual summer teacher institutes to enhance the teaching of Central America at the K-16 level. We are excited to continue the professional development series by providing this online panel open to K-16 educators of any subject area.

There are currently over 600,000 Garifuna around the world. Central America has the highest population; 100,000 in Honduras and 8,000 in Nicaragua, which was one of the last settlements in 1912. Guatemala has a small, isolated population which has retained much of the original culture. The United States has the second highest population, with about 100,000 residing in New York City. There are also populations in Chicago, Louisiana, and California. The number in the US increases every year as more people leave Central America. The Carib populations in Central America have almost entirely vanished, so the Garifuna are now considered the last descendants of the Amer-Indian tribes in South America.

Join us Thursday, October 7th for a discussion with three Garifuna writers/artists leading a discussion on Garifuna culture and identity through performance, writing, food and more. Join the conversation to explore new resources and perspectives to incorporate into your teaching on Central America. Participants in this program will explore Garifuna identity through the work of the three writers and cultural scholars. Janel Martinez, Saraciea Fennell and Isha Sumner. Participants will receive a copy of the up and coming WILD TONGUES CAN’T BE TAMED on a first come, first serve basis. Sign up by Friday, September 24 to guarantee your copy. REGISTER HERE

Janel Martinez is a writer and the founder of the award-winning blog, Ain’t I Latina? an online destination celebrating Afro-Latinx womanhood. The Bronx, NY native is a frequent public speaker discussing media, culture and identity, as well as diversity at conferences and events for Bloomberg, NBCU, SXSW, Harvard University and more. She’s appeared as a featured guest on national shows and outlets, such as BuzzFeed, ESSENCE, NPR and Sirius XM, and her work has appeared in Adweek, Univision Communications, Oprah Magazine, Remezcla and The New York Times. The Honduran-American has been nominated for the 20th Annual Rosoff Award in the 20-Something Category and won the Afro-Latino Festival of New York’s Digital Empowerment Award and, in 2018, was recognized at City Hall by the New York City Council, the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus and the Bronx Delegation to the NYC Council for her contributions as a woman of Garifuna descent. Her work will be included in the forthcoming YA anthology, WILD TONGUES CAN’T BE TAMED, which will be published in November 2021 by Flatiron Books.

Isha Sumner immigrated to the US at the age of 15, the foundation of her Garifuna ethnicity and culture remains central to her identity and sharing that has been a major part of her life for the past 25 years. As a professional Garifuna dancer, Isha was a member of the International Folkloric Garifuna Ballet of Honduras, which toured throughout Honduras & Europe in the early 1990s. From 1995-2000, she was a member of Wanichagu, a Garifuna dance company based in NYC, and performed at the likes of Lincoln Center and Harvard University. Isha’s passion to perform onstage transitioned to more formal acting and included a featured appearance speaking Garifuna in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit in 2007. In 2016 she completed her Associate‘€™s Degree in acting at William Esper School in Manhattan. With a continued passion to share and preserve her own Garifuna culture, Isha has dedicated much of the past 5 years to documenting Garifuna cuisine in Weiga, Let’s Eat.

Saraceia Fennell is a Brooklyn born Black, Honduran writer from the Bronx and the founder of The Bronx is Reading, and Honduran Garifuna Writers and Friends. She is also a publicist who has worked with many award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors. Fennell is board chair of Latinx in Publishing, and on the Advisory Board for People of Color in Publishing. Her forthcoming anthology WILD TONGUES CAN’T BE TAMED will be published by Flatiron Books in November 2021. For more information visit SaracieaFennell.com and follow her on social @sj_fennell.

Co-sponsored by the Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latinx Studies at Vanderbilt University.

Sign up by Friday, September 24 to get a copy of their latest book Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed.

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Kaqchikel Language Table

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Join Kaqchikel learners and speakers at all levels to practice your language skills at this bi-monthly conversation table. Hosted by expert instructor Mtro. Gonzalo Ticun (aka Sotz Aq’ab’al), the Oct. 8 session will focus on the creatures that share our homes and lives. Bring your favorite animal friend to join the discussion.

Link to join: https://tulane.zoom.us/j/93988469399?pwd=bkk3eDIzOEhQVjVEV1ZxTHFDTnJvQT09

This event is co-sponsored by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Kansas.

Kaqchikel Language Table

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Join Kaqchikel learners and speakers at all levels to practice your language skills at this bi-monthly conversation table. Participants in the Oct. 28 session will get the chance to read the short story “Ri töp chuqa’ ri kär”/“The Crab and the Fish” alongside its author, Mtra. Magda Sotz (aka Ixkamey).

Link to join: https://tulane.zoom.us/j/93988469399?pwd=bkk3eDIzOEhQVjVEV1ZxTHFDTnJvQT09

This event is co-sponsored by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Kansas.

Kaqchikel Language Table

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Join Kaqchikel learners and speakers at all levels to practice your language skills at this bi-monthly conversation table. Nov. 12 is game day with Mtro. Edy Rene Guaján (aka Lajuj B’atz’)! Come prepared to play along and laugh.

Link to join: https://tulane.zoom.us/j/93988469399?pwd=bkk3eDIzOEhQVjVEV1ZxTHFDTnJvQT09

This event is co-sponsored by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Kansas.