2019 News Stories

Faculty visit Colombia through USF World Spanish Language Immersion and Collaboration Experience

by Chelsea Grosbeck

Educators with Spanish Immersion program certifications

Educators stand with their 40-hour Spanish Immersion program certifications from the El Instituto de Idiomas at the Universidad Del Norte (UniNorte) campus.

Three USF College of Education faculty members traveled to Barranquilla, Colombia this summer to represent the college during the USF World Spanish Language Immersion and Collaboration experience in Barranquilla, Colombia.

While in Colombia, faculty members Vonzell Agosto, PhD, Lauren Braunstein, PhD, and Katie Tricarico, PhD, explored the cultural depths of the country. Learning the history, politics and culture from excursions and collaborations with peer colleagues at Universidad del Norte (UniNorte), they also participated in a Spanish language course to practice their skills.

Braunstein and Tricarico said they were eager to be students again, but during the four-hour long Spanish language class, they experienced challenges similar to some of their students.

“I learned what it feels like to be in a classroom where I didn’t understand the teacher,” said Tricarico, an instructor in USF's Elementary Education Program. “When we ourselves are the language or cultural outsider, we learn from our own experience skills for helping students in similar situations in our schools and classrooms."

Tricarico said the experience allowed the USF faculty to understand how students use coping mechanisms, such as silence or withdrawing, as a response to feelings of isolation due to language barriers, providing the ability to connect with students and work with families whose first language isn’t English.

“It is the teacher’s responsibility to create an environment where students feel safe…” Tricarico said. “Feeling it for myself was a completely different experience and one that will help me in my work with preservice teachers.”

Over time, the classes strengthened participants proficiency in communicating their academic research with international colleagues. During enrichment breaks, they were given a geographical tour of the region to see how the cities were shaped by music and dance.

faculty take group photo at universidad del norte

Educators at the Museo del Caribe on the UniNorte campus.

While experiencing the bright and lively culture of Colombia through the narrations of local museums and faculty at the university, participants were also exposed to adversities faced by locals.

After investigating more into the themes of her research, Agosto, an associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies, heard from Colombian colleagues about the loss of Indigenous languages and educational access to students in those communities. Agosto said she hopes to share what she’s learned with her students at USF to widen their understanding of challenges faced by other cultures in education.

“I learned of programs in place that provide educators at the master’s level to learn about social pedagogy in context (schools, families, community organizations) ...” Agosto said. “I think programs in the College of Education could learn much from people facilitating and building programs at UniNorte about relating education to language, peace, and social pedagogy and curriculum.”

faculty at universidad del norte

(Left to right) Braunstein, Tricarico and Agosto on the UniNorte campus.

In an effort to bring aspiring teachers closer to the international conversation of ensuring equity and diversity in education, the College of Education is collaborating with UniNorte to create a new study abroad program, “USF Barranquilla Social Justice, Peace and Pedagogy.” The program is expected to launch in 2020.

“Our classrooms are a microcosm for global diversity,” said Braunstein, an instructor of social foundations. “For that reason, traveling with an academic purpose (not just as a tourist) is crucial in the field of education.”

As a global research university, USF is dedicated to providing opportunities for the university’s students to discover global connections. Braunstein explained the new study abroad opportunity will allow USF students to dedicate their passions for upholding international education and become well-rounded educators to serve as global advocates.

“I feel that learning happens when we step outside of our comfort zones…” Braunstein said. “Global travel with the purpose of exchanging knowledge is an efficient way to shift our worldviews and step outside of our very local mindset. I think this is especially important for teachers and administrators because schools, even at the local level, are in fact global.”