For the hundred or so English teachers from Ecuador currently at K-State, it’s almost mandatory to stick together.
How else to make it through their time in America?
Pedro Espinoza, project manager for K-State’s Center for Intercultural and Multilingual Advocacy, talked to a smaller group of teachers about trust during a weekly team-building session.
He said this was important for those who have spouses In Ecuador, waiting for them to return from their seven-month journey thousands of miles away.
“Right now, you’re all far away from your loved ones,” Espinoza said.
The journey to Manhattan for the “Go Teacher” program was driven by a desire of the teachers themselves — and the Ecuadorean government — to improve education in that country.
The exchange has worked in both directions: K-State officials have visited Ecuador to understand teachers’ needs and how to meet them.
The program works this way: Ecuador’s government provides a full scholarship for its country’s English teachers to attend a U.S. university, hoping to enhance their own command of English while learning instruction methods.
Now the initiative that began at K-State has expanded to three other schools: New Mexico State University, the University of Kentucky and Valparaiso University in Indiana.
K-State has provided the template used at these other universities as the program spreads out.
Sue Maes, dean of continuing education at K-State, said the university’s involvement happened accidentally.
A few months after Maes went on a trip to Indonesia with the University Professional and Continuing Education Association, an official from the trip who grew up in Ecuador told Maes about the opportunity.
“She wanted to know if we would be interested in hosting a group of Ecuadorian teachers,” Maes said.
K-State then entered a three-year agreement with Ecuador’s Ministry of Education, along with the country’s governing body for higher education.
Maes said talks already have begun for another three-year commitment.
The first group who participated in the “Go Teacher” program came in the summer of 2012, and now a fifth group of teachers is currently at K-State.
Along with this group, Ecuadorian master’s students are on campus for the first time.
There are 42 former “Go Teacher” participants furthering their education through another full year at the university.
According to the Ecuador’s U.S. embassy in Washington, D.C., 622 Ecuadorian teachers have come to the United States to be trained in teaching English through the end of 2013.
Maes said a group of K-State officials go to Ecuador twice a year to provide guidance.
“We don’t just bring them here and send them home,” she said. “We follow up with site visits to their classrooms.”
This relationship is continuing in other ways, with K-State sending a group of instructors to Ecuador to work with the University of Yachay, which begins English language classes on Tuesday.
The group will meet with Ecuador President Rafael Correa on Monday.
Debbi Mercer, K-State College of Education dean, said she recognizes this type of relationship isn’t common for any university or country.
“It’s not something that happens everyday by any means,” Mercer said. “I think we’ve developed a unique model.”
Different motives bring these teachers to K-State to improve their English and teaching skills. Rodrigo Guerrero, a “Go Teacher” participant, said he wanted to be a doctor – but now enjoys the experience of being a teacher.
Karinna Suasnavas, a master’s student, said she’s dreamed of being a teacher since she was a child, recalling the good examples set by her own teachers.
“I love to be surrounded by people,” she said. “It was the best opportunity to share with them what I know, and also support them when needed.”
In contrast, master’s student Hamilton Quezada said he was disappointed by his teachers in school, and wanted to provide a type of inspiration he didn’t get from them.
“I realized the real reason I became a teacher was that I wanted to be the type of teacher I never had in my life,” he said.
To get through the program successfully, the teachers have mentors to help them adjust to American culture.
The relationship involves English help, but also incorporates leisure activities like going to the movies and attending concerts.
“There is a strong community engagement part of this project,” Mercer said.
The teachers also get to work in educational environments through volunteer work, with organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and Wonder Workshop.
“This is important for the education in Ecuador,” Guerrero said. “We’re learning new things. We’re having contact with American culture. We’re thankful for that.”
Quezada said spending time in an English-speaking country is a helpful experience they don’t get in Ecuador.
He said it’s similar to a French teacher in the United States not really having the opportunity to use his or her language skills with others in America.
“The government found out most of the English teachers did not have the required level to actually teach a language,” Quezada said. “They were teaching a language they didn’t really speak.”
As a master’s student, Suasnavas said this is harder time than the first time around — because of the class load.
“Go Teachers” participants aren’t working on a degree, and mainly concentrate on the language skills through K-State’s English program.
“We have to be with our books every day,” she said. “I think it was a great opportunity to be here (for the introductory courses). Now we know the rhythm of study.”
Quezada agreed but added, “I’m not complaining. This time it is supposed to be hard.”
When they’re finished with their respective programs, the visiting teachers must fulfill a two-year commitment to the Ecuador’s education ministry by teaching an English course.
The teachers acknowledged the important role they will play in the future of Ecuador.
“The world without us can’t exist,” Guerrero said.
Certainly not the English-speaking part of it in Ecuador.