THE AMERICAN DREAM. Equality of opportunity. Individualism. When thirty school teachers from across Mexico asked local Austin residents to describe traditional American values, they received these responses. The activity was one of many these visiting teachers experienced during the Teacher Training Program offered this July through the UT International Office. The four-week summer program is sponsored by Mexico’s Secretary of Public Education in partnership with UT English as a Second Language (ESL) Services.
“We have learned by doing, just as we teach our students back home. We’ve learned new ways to manage our classrooms and to teach each of the different forms of language learning, from writing to speaking, and correct grammar and form,” shared Silvia Marina Hernandez Gonzalez, a pre-school teacher and former doctor from Mexico City.
ESL teacher Rachelle Bumgardner coordinated this summer’s program and facilitated lessons on U.S. idioms, expressions unique to American culture. “The program is designed to provide new strategies for teaching English to non-native speakers and also help these experienced teachers gain a deeper understanding of the culture behind English language in the U.S. We build in activities that allow participants to engage with the community and each other. This immersion provides lots of opportunity to practice, share questions and discuss ideas about how they can apply these new strategies in their classrooms.”
In addition to classroom instruction, Rachelle and other ESL faculty and assistants also took the visiting teachers to experience important local cultural landmarks, such as Austin City Hall, the Texas State Capitol building, the LBJ Ranch and the San Antonio Riverwalk. For most of the teachers, this was their first time traveling outside Mexico and experiencing another nation’s culture.
“In class we talked about the U.S. being a very individualistic culture. It was interesting to hear this reflected in people’s comments when we approached them on the street in Austin for one of our class activities. I admire Americans’ focus on achieving your own goals and wanting to be happy with your life,” shared program participant Olinka Davila, a third-grade teacher from Tamaulipas, a town in northern Mexico.
Silvia had a similar moment with a man while riding a bus in Austin. “A group of us were talking in Spanish and laughing, reflecting on the day. A Pakistani man next to me smiled and said he knew Spanish but was not able to keep up with us because we were speaking so fast. He wanted to know more about Spanish, just as we want to learn more about English.”
The opportunity for cultural exchange and appreciation was a high point of the program for many participants. “Our teachers and assistants understand our culture, too. They have all spent so much time with us, helping us feel at home. We have learned so much.”
The teachers expressed gratitude toward Mexico’s Secretary of Public Education who selected them from over 350 applicants nationwide, funding their participation in this comprehensive language training program. The Teacher Training Program, offered in partnership with UT ESL Services, has taken place in Austin seven times since 2004. It is one of many partner programs ESL Services delivers each year, offering valuable culture exchange between UT, various global education agencies, and citizens from around the world.
Written by Angie Pastorek