Students work in a garden at COVI during their trip to Ecuador.
It wasn’t just any ordinary trip to Ecuador.
For a group of Laramie County Community College students, the trip was about helping others, learning about the local culture and immersing themselves in the Spanish language.
At LCCC, classes like Spanish Study Abroad help students reinforce the skills they’ve learned in the classroom while also giving them hands on service-learning experience and insight into what other cultures of the world are like. The trip to Ecuador was led by LCCC instructor Juan-Antonio Bernabéu, who is set to take another group of students to Spain in 2016.
“The students are totally submerged in the culture and language,” Bernabéu said. “They’re surrounded by a different life and by different types of nature. Most of the students don’t get a chance to get out of Wyoming or the surrounding area. They can witness and experience life in a different way. This experience truly transforms their lives.”
That experience is grounded in learning. From the moment they arrived in Ecuador, the students spoke Spanish, putting into practice what they’ve learned at LCCC.
“The students lived with host families where they spoke nothing but Spanish,” Bernabéu said. “They’re not just observers, but they’re participants. Each student is given responsibilities at their host families’ houses. It’s total immersion. They live with their host family, they go to school and they implement a service project.”
As part of their service project, the students worked with COVI, a nonprofit organization that serves disadvantaged children. COVI organizers put the LCCC students with disadvantaged students so the two groups could work together.
“What we did was we helped clean the facility, and we helped with the instruction of the children,” Bernabéu said. “The students were in charge of the children, and they came up with a activities that complement the institution’s teaching plans.”
In addition to their volunteer work, the LCCC students had four hours each day of formal Spanish instruction at a private school.
Working with the children and seeing how often they only got one meal a day was life changing for some of the students on many of LCCC’s trips, Bernabéu said.
“One of my students said they can’t believe how wasteful we can be in the U.S.,” he said. “Experiences like going to Ecuador are important because hopefully it will inspire our students to do better. This really does help transform lives.”
As part of their studies, students visited natural and historic sites in Ecuador like Mindo, near the Cloud Forest, and Baños, a volcanic area that has diverse biology and ecosystem.
“We went to places where we started off at sea level, then increased in altitude just a little, and we saw different vegetation and animal life,” Bernabéu said. “Then as soon as we went to 2,000 to 4,000 feet high, we can see volcanoes with glaciers, which is considerably different.”
For students who couldn’t go to Ecuador, Bernabéu will be taking students to Alicante, Spain, from May 12 through June 2. That trip also will feature a service-learning project, language immersion and visits to historic and natural sites.
Students who are interested in going can attend an informational meeting from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 3, in the Education & Enrichment Center, Room 132. Students going on the Spain trip also will have to meet with the group once a month starting in January.
“If they’re taking the class for credit, they will need to have two semesters of Spanish completed at LCCC,” Bernabéu said. “If they’re not doing it for credit, they audit the class, but those students are subject to the same policies and regulations as the other students.”
The students who went to Ecuador said they enjoyed learning about a new culture and helping others.
“This is a life changing experience because you see and experience different cultures, and you get to try new things,” said Millie Chavarria, a radiography student.
For Anne Lloyd, a general studies student, the experience gave her the chance to improve her Spanish skills.
“At first it was hard to understand what people were saying,” she said. “When I first met my house mother, we barely understood each other. By the second week, we were able to communicate. Because you’re immersed in the culture, you learn and pick up skills quickly, which is why I enjoyed this trip.”
Students Addison Morris and Alex Emery both enjoyed the experience, saying they would recommend it to other students because of how it supplemented the classroom experience.
“You learn common phrases that people say there that you wouldn’t normally learn in a book,” said Morris, who will be transferring to the University of Wyoming. “Going on this trip has given me a new perspective, because you experience a different culture.”
Emery said the trip will be something he will never forget.
“I knew Spanish, but I improved my skills while I was there,” the psychology and philosophy student said. “Just before I left, I understood what people were saying. I knew we would improve our Spanish skills, but I never thought it would be so fast.”