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In a unique new program that builds on the University of Delaware's storied history of study abroad and its growing presence as a Citizen University, a small cohort of students are immersing themselves in the Latin American culture without ever having to leave the state.
Through "Global at Home: An Alternative Semester Abroad," 10 students from across the University are enrolled in anthropology, political science and Latin American studies courses taught entirely in Spanish by bilingual professors, as well as a geography course, taught in English, that takes them to southern Delaware six times over the course of the semester to get a firsthand account of the social, economic and political issues faced by the largely Guatemalan residents of Georgetown.
"A lot of schools have service learning and almost every school has study abroad, but 'Global at Home' is about showing the true international character of Delaware," says Latin American Studies program director Persephone Braham, who helped establish the inaugural program. "Families who have been here many years, often doing the 'invisible work' [of farming, industrial labor and housekeeping], are opening their homes to our students."
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The Latino population of Sussex County has grown rapidly over the past 20 years, from a few thousand to tens of thousands. Though these migrants come from many different countries, the largest percentage are from Guatemala. Fleeing the violence of civil war there, and attracted to jobs opening up in the poultry industry in southern Delaware, the first wave of Guatemalan immigrants arrived in Georgetown in the late 1980s, many as political refugees. Since the later 1990s, however, most of the Guatemalan immigrants coming to Delaware have been escaping desperate poverty and seeking opportunities for themselves and their families.
Working alongside April Veness, an associate professor of geography whose ethnographic research centers on how the Guatemalan immigrant community of southern Delaware is defining and creating home, the "Global at Home" students are participating in service-learning projects and homestay weekends to learn about the concerns and experiences of Latino residents and the impact of "Latinization" on the small towns there.
Their service-learning projects are sponsored by a variety of community partners, and the students have been placed in one of three agencies, where their duties include: creating multimedia "Stories of Home" with the Latino children from North Georgetown Elementary School who attend at an afterschool program at La Casita/First State Community Action Agency, collecting and translating information for clients at the Murphy Immigration Law firm, and working with adult Latino students from La Esperanza who are practicing their English language and computer skills with resources made available to them at the Georgetown Public Library.
Through "Global at Home," the students will also spend three weekends with the families, with their final weekend visit set for April 15-17. On May 7, UD will reciprocate the hospitality, inviting the families to spend the day in on campus in Newark.
Having completed two weekend trips already, the students note recurring themes amongst their host families -- language barriers for the parents, Americanization in the children and a persistent sense of living out of two worlds.
This was clearly illustrated for senior Katie LaFleur, an international relations major from Cherry Hill, N.J., when the family dined at Dominos.
"Here we are in this quintessentially American pizza place, huddled together deciding what to eat, and after we picked our toppings, the mother, who speaks no English, hands her son the money to order it all instead of doing it herself," she recalls. "It was a bit of a culture shock for me," adds LaFleur, who studied abroad in Spain but views her current experience as "more personal because I'm building a relationship with the family."
And that, says Veness, is the hope for the students, "to actively contribute to these households through friendship."
In addition to their experiences in southern Delaware, the "Global at Home" students are currently enrolled in three courses on campus, taught entirely in Spanish: Grupos y Culturas de América Latina, taught by anthropology professor Carla Guerrón Montero; Problemas de política de América latina, taught by political science and international relations professor Julio Carrión; and Culturas y civilizaciones latinoamericanas, taught by Braham.
The courses, open to the larger University community, were filled to capacity with students on the wait list before the semester even began.
"Our goal was to produce a cultural and linguistic immersion experience without taking students abroad," says Braham, "and the student demand has been terrific."
The enthusiasm is apparent in the faculty, as well.
For example, Guerrón Montero designed an on-campus service project in which her 20 anthropology students are preparing a radio program on one of five topics -- migration, gender, race, politics, or human rights -- to be aired on WVUD's Spanish program, Latinisimo. The assignment will require students to write the script, select the music, and run the program in Spanish.
In addition to their coursework, all "Global at Home" students participate in excursions, such as a recent day trip to New York, where they visited the Museo del Barrio and watched the Spanish play "La vida en los Esclavos Unidos" (Life in the United Slaves). They attended a conference on Latino issues in March.
Marion Bernard- Amos, former assistant director of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures' study abroad program and current program coordinator for the Confucius Institute, developed the idea for "Global at Home" as a way to build a learning community in the state.
"A partnership built around mentorship, friendship, interpretation of foreign languages, socio-cultural norms and advocacy can lead to positive outcomes for all, from the UD students who wish to perfect their Spanish and gain a better understanding of Latino issues, to the immigrant families who wish to strengthen their ties to the Anglo community, to the statewide organizations that wish to assist Latino families in their efforts to be more active members of society," she says.
Bernard-Amos hopes to expand this concept of an alternative study abroad program to other populations in Delaware, such as working with the Confucius Institute to build ties with the Chinese community in Hockessin or partnering with the African Studies program to link students with the burgeoning Kenyan population in Bear.
"The state of Delaware is an eclectic mix of people, and we want to find a way of contributing to this diversity," she says. "We see this as an opportunity to add value to the programs at UD while building on our efforts to engage locally and globally."
"Global at Home" is run by the Latin American Studies Program. It is funded by the Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center; offices of the deans in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment; Office of Service Learning; Institute for Global Studies; and the departments of Anthropology, Foreign Languages and Literatures, Geography and Political Science and International Relations.