The universities partnered together to win the "100,000 Strong in the Americas" Innovation Fund Grant that focused on Sustainability efforts in the U.S. and Peru
With most Study Abroad programs, college students are given a chance to experience a new culture. But for 10 Towson University students, they spent their summer not only learning a new culture, but also getting a chance to share theirs.
This past year, Towson University was among the winners of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund Competition No. 10. Partnering with the Universidad De Piura in Peru, TU secured funding to produce a program that focuses on environmental sustainability, service learning and cross-cultural communication.
This joint effort resulted in “It Isn’t Easy Being Green: Peruvian and U.S. Students Tackle Local Environmental Sustainability in a Transnational Context,” a seven-week reciprocal study abroad program that is tailored to underrepresented students.
The effort was spearheaded by Towson University Foreign Language Department chair Lea Ramsdell and professor Colleen Ebacher, and Director of Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility Christopher Jensen. But according to Ramsdell, it was a real team effort between many members of TU’s staff and the staff of the Universidad De Piura.
“We had so much staff help, and we were all so thrilled when we actually got the grant,” Ramsdell said. “This partnership with the Universidad De Piura can be very strong, and we would like to continue to have exchanges between the two universities.”
The fund was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Partners of the America, NAFSA: Association of International Educators and the Santander Bank N.A.
The seven-week program included 10 students from Peru, 10 students from Towson University and two faculty members from each institution. The program featured the students working together two weeks at on TU’s campus, a week working together on a virtual multimedia project, and then spending two weeks at the Universidad De Piura in Piura, Peru.
While on the Towson University campus, the program consisted of the students taking language courses during the morning, followed by the group working on sustainability projects and field trips in the afternoon.
These sustainability projects included working in urban gardens throughout the area, visiting and participating on an oyster boat in the Chesapeake Bay, working at the local Bee Tree Preserve and more that saw the students get their hands a little dirty.
“It’s been intense,” said TU senior Valerie Pasion, who participated in the program. “I didn’t expect it to be this hard. But I’ve learned so much, and I love to see how (the Peruvian students) react to information. We’re on the same page on a lot of the same concerns.”
During the two weeks on TU’s campus, Both Towson and Peruvian students said they started to realize that while they come from different parts of the world, they have many of the same concerns and issues effecting their lives. For Ramsdell, that was one of the main goals for the TU students — being more open to how other parts of the world think.
“I’ve seen so many of our students take off with their Spanish,” Ramsdell said. “One of my main objectives, including growing their language proficiency, is to grow their cultural proficiency too. We want them to have a better understanding of how things are done in another culture.”
And while a lot of work is being done to help with language proficiency, sustainability and service learning, there was also time for fun, as well. For many of the Peruvian students, this was the first time out of their home country.
This was one of the conditions of the grant, that the program would reach out to underrepresented students who don’t normally participate in study abroad programs.
“One thing the Peru students commented on was that it was light so late in the day — because in Peru it gets dark around 6 p.m.,” Ramsdell said. “It brought me a lot of pleasure to see them experiencing something so different. These small things outside of their country that are so different, that we take for granted such as number of hours of daylight in the day. And they could express that with our students.”
So, working with Towson University, many of the Peruvian students spent free days visiting local monuments and surrounding cities — including New York City and Washington D.C.
With the students participating in classes, project work and free time trips outside Baltimore, some might think it would be too much work. But for many of the visiting Peruvian students, it was just what they were signing up for.
“It’s a super intense program, but it was worth it and it’s going to help me,” said Joseph Lamadrid, who is studying industry engineering at the Universidad De Piura. “This experience is going to help me find a job and show that I was part of an international program. I’m improving my English, learning about the environment and finding other things I can take back to my country.”
For many of the Towson University students, the program offered many different incentives. Many were interested in the sustainability and service learning aspect, some were interested in learning about a different Latin American culture, and a few were interested in the affordable study abroad opportunity.
TU Senior Luis Muniz is a student who was interested in all aspects of the trip, and even stayed in Peru an extra week before classes started. When presented with the opportunity, Muniz didn’t hesitate to sign up.
“I was really surprised about it,” Muniz said. “This program really opened my eyes about how much work Towson is doing to become a more diverse campus academically, socially and environmentally.”
If a Towson University student is interested in studying abroad, or participating in an international imitative, check out the Towson University Study Abroad program.