Eleven students from across Mexico have spent four weeks immersed in the Southeast Missouri State University community, participating in the Intensive English Program (IEP) and experiencing American culture as part of the Proyecta Program.
The students concluded their stay here in a closing ceremony Nov. 16, before returning to Mexico Nov. 18.
The Proyecta Program is an initiative by the Mexican government to send Mexican students from higher education institutions to public universities in the United States. The Proyecta Program stemmed from a plan called 100,000 Strong in the Americas. The 100,000 Strong in the Americas program is the leading higher education initiative in the Western Hemisphere aimed at increasing the annual number of U.S. students studying in Latin America and the Caribbean to 100,000, and bringing 100,000 students from those areas to the United States by 2020. Through the initiatives, collaborations between organizations and institutions in Central, South and North America have formed in an effort to reach this goal.
Southeast Missouri State University is among those institutions.
“I am very pleased that we were selected to host these Mexican students. The benefits are multiple for them and for us,” said Dr. Carlos Vargas, president of Southeast Missouri State University. “Besides learning our language, they have learned a little about our traditions, tastes, cultures, likes and dislikes. Their visit has contributed to enhancing our mutual acceptance and understanding. Based on this experience, we will certainly continue to explore the possibility of hosting additional groups of Mexican students in the future.”
Southeast learned about and became interested in Proyecta as a participant in the 14th cohort of the American Council on Education’s (ACE) Internationalization Laboratory Program. The program is guiding Southeast through ACE’s premier planning process toward comprehensive internationalization efforts in teaching and learning. Ultimately, the laboratory is helping Southeast review its goals and develop a strategic plan in its international education efforts that aligns and integrates policies, programs and initiatives to position the University as a more globally-oriented and internationally-connected institution. A final plan is expected to be completed next spring.
Southeast officials say the Proyecta program has been a resounding success benefiting not only the 11 Mexican students visiting here, but the University’s domestic students, faculty and community members as well.
“We are an educational community first and foremost, and the more diverse viewpoints you have in classrooms, the more our domestic students and community members get to meet and interact with people from other parts of the world,” said Dr. Kevin Timlin, executive director of International Education and Services. “In addition to the English training program, really the heart of a lot of these programs is the person to person cultural exchange. There is an immense benefit, especially in this day in age where media is so prevalent. There is the word of the government, the word of the media, and the negative news stories on both sides. That is where person to person cultural exchange does so much for building relationships where we can divorce the narrative that we hear from a lot of outside sources.”
For each of the past four weeks, the Mexican students spent 25 hours in the Intensive English Program, working to improve their English speaking and understanding skills. The students vary in their English proficiency and were blended into existing IEP classes with other Southeast IEP students.
“Proyecta students are taking academic English language courses, including reading, writing, understanding, speaking, and grammar classes. Their coursework includes writing essays, giving presentations, leading discussions and taking notes in English,” said Breanna Walling, director and instructional specialist in the Department of International Education and Services. “Having more diversity in the Intensive English Programs is a major benefit to our students and teachers. These students bring new perspectives and language learning backgrounds to the classroom, and they jumped right in to all of our coffee hours and cultural activities. It was our privilege to host these talented students for a short time.”
In addition, the Mexican students have participated in many campus and community events, including Halloween festivities, Redhawk athletic events, a performance of “Dracula” at the River Campus, a Día de los Muertos celebration and Carpe Diem: A celebration of cultural diversity at Southeast, which was a student favorite.
The Proyecta Program has created and opened many new doors for the 11 Mexican students.
The group is concluding its time at Southeast by participating in International Education Week activities, including the “Parade of Nations” and “International Fashion Day” this week. “The Parade of Nations” was held Nov. 14 during halftime of the women’s basketball game. “International Fashion Day” was celebrated on Nov. 15, and students wore clothing representative of their home country while a group photograph was taken.
“The more viewpoints and the more understanding that we can bring to the campus, the better prepared Southeast graduates are to become leaders in their communities, their employment and their lives,” Timlin said. “Giving them that international mindset and worldview of competency is what we are hoping for, and the best way to do that is by interacting with people from around the world.”
Southeast is continuing to apply for grant funding and other study abroad opportunities like the Proyecta Program.
“Being part of the 100,000 Strong In the Americas network, and the more we are engaged through programs like Proyecta, the more it will open the door to additional opportunities in that part of the world. We are being proactive in pursuing more opportunities in Latin America,” Timlin added. “We hope this will allow us to build relationships with other students, institutions and faculty to create short- and long-term possibilities in the future.”