By Keely Savoie
During the height of summer in the Southern Hemisphere this January, ten Argentinian university students packed wool hats and mittens, thick sweaters, and heavy coats into suitcases—ready to spend the next eight weeks at Mount Holyoke College.
The Friends of Fulbright scholarship pilot program, which launched during the College’s January term, includes classes as well as the opportunity to attend some spring semester courses. The program, an offering of the Fulbright Program and the US Embassy in Argentina, is designed to foster cross-cultural exchange and learning.
“They arrived after an incredibly long journey to a place they’d never been, ready to go full force from the minute they touched down,” said Roberto Mugnani, director of program development at Mount Holyoke’s Professional and Graduate Education (PaGE) program.
The students, who were selected for their academic level and potential, will leave Mount Holyoke with the credits they earned from the January-term courses at Mount Holyoke. They also attended classes for the first few weeks of the spring semester in their major fields of study, including education, economics, and business administration as well as courses that simply interested them, such as philosophy and women’s studies.
“It is not something we are used to,” said María Jimena Ramirez, one of the visiting students, noting that in Argentina liberal arts learning is not an option. “We have to decide what we want to do with our life at age 17.”
Many of the students attend large universities in their home country, living in apartments or with family, physically isolated from their fellow students.
“Here we go back to our residence halls and we see each other and other students from our classes. We eat together and socialize together. It is very different,” said Antonella Sanchez Gusman.
In January, some students learned to build robots in interactive design with Nick Baker, who is the library and technology liaison to the departments of computer science and film studies, and the PaGE and Nexus programs.
“It was very strange,” said Maite Guiamet, one of Baker’s students. “I study education, and I was never going to build a robot in my life. But we came here and in a week we all built one.”
Even the tenor of classes and the material taught was different, they said. Many of the education majors took Teaching Methods for Literacy in Early Childhood and Elementary Schools with Jennifer Jacoby, assistant professor of psychology and education.
“We were talking about literacy and language learning, and we realized there is a fundamental difference in the way reading in Spanish is taught versus English, simply because of the different structure of words,” said Jacoby.
The students were not the only ones who learned from that experience.
“It was a great privilege to teach these Fulbright students,” said Baker. “Not only were they learning in a second language, but they were working with their third and fourth languages in order to program the robots and write the code. As a teacher, I was motivated to think more robustly about what I was teaching—and how.”
The experience went beyond the typical US college cultural exchange, said Mugnani, as the Friends of Fulbright scholars interacted with international students, faculty, and staff from countries including China, Colombia, India, Pakistan, Russia, and South Africa, to name a few. Furthermore, he noted, the scholars enriched the Mount Holyoke campus and local community by organizing Argentine Cultural Night at the Language Resource Center, making presentations at area schools, and sharing their unique worldviews in the education, economics, and politics courses they attended.
After the resounding success of the pilot year, the Friends of Fulbright program is slated to expand to more institutions in the United States , and Mount Holyoke wants to be a part of the program.
“We would like to continue hosting the Fulbright program and integrate the scholars from Argentina into the rich, multicultural learning environment offered by the Mount Holyoke College community,” said Mugnani.
“These scholars, as the next generation of Argentine leaders, will be returning home with a deeper understanding of the people, culture, and institutions of the United States and the world,” he said. “I am optimistic that they will draw upon all that they have experienced here and contribute to positive social change in the future.”
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