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'Students are the same all over': Ecuadorean teachers visit IU Southeast

Oct. 10, 2012

Alicia Davila, Margarita Bustillos and Johanna Ramirez, all teachers from Ecuador, traveled to IU Southeast in August and September for a three-week internship to observe education in Southern Indiana and Louisville.

Their trip came at an opportune time, as Louisville and Quito, Ecuador, were celebrating their 50th year as sister cities. IU Southeast also has a close relationship with Ecuador as part of the Explorations on Diversity Summer in Ecuador program.

Margarita Bustillos and Johanna Ramirez

Margarita Bustillos, left, and Johanna Ramirez sit in on an undergraduate education class at IU Southeast. The teachers were visiting the campus from Ecuador as part of a partnership program with IU Southeast.

For more than a decade, IU Southeast has sent a contingent of students to Ecuador each summer to study education in three Ecuadorean schools: America Latina, Quitumbe and Bicentenario. This time, it was Ecuador’s turn to send some of its educators to the Midwest.

Davila, Bustillos and Ramirez visited classrooms at IU Southeast and schools in Southern Indiana, Louisville and Bloomington. At IU Southeast, they presented to a class of upper-level undergraduate students.

“It’s very helpful for us to come here and see things we can apply at our schools,” Davila said.

The Summer in Ecuador program began as a way for IU Southeast students to gain teaching experience outside their home base, and the program has grown into a full-fledged partnership.

For the past 11 years, IU Southeast students have gained immeasurable knowledge from their Ecuadorean counterparts. In particular, they watched the Ecuadorean teachers -- such as Davila, Bustillos and Ramirez -- instruct their students in English as a foreign language and took lessons back to their American ESL classrooms. 

“It’s very good when the IU Southeast students visit Ecuador,” Davila said. “They help introduce our students to the English language. But it is good for us to be here, too. We can promote our country.”

Magdalena Herdoiza-Estevez

IU Southeast professor of education Magdalena Herdoiza-Estevez paints a mural on the wall of a daycare center in San Gerardo, Ecuador. When completed and translated into English, the mural reads "All the children have rights."

For that reason, the Ecuadorean teachers were particularly interested in observing English as a Second Language courses during their trip.

They visited the elementary classrooms of several IU Southeast alums, including some who had previously traveled to Ecuador and observed the women in their own workplaces.

The women noticed some similarities in the way educators in Ecuador and the United States teach English to native Spanish speakers.

Ramirez noted, though, that their American colleagues seemed to experience more of a challenge when teaching English as a Second Language. Students in the ESL classes that Ramirez and her peers observed could speak a range of native languages, not just Spanish, as their students generally do. If the teacher is not well-versed in all of those native languages, the job becomes more difficult, she said.

“They are just amazing in what they do, how they work with the students,” Davila said.

There are other obvious differences in the two education systems, the Ecuadorian teachers said. They were particularly impressed with the teaching materials available in U.S. classrooms.

Ecuadorean students

Ecuadorean students from the Bolivar Chiriboga school in San Gerardo, Ecuador.

“The materials the teachers have here are very nice,” Ramirez said.

“At home, we have to create any materials and take them with us when we change classes. In our schools, the teachers have to change the classrooms. Here, the students move.”

Davila also said she was unsure about how the elementary schools themselves would look. “I thought the schools were not going to be as clean and organized as they are,” she said, smiling.

Still, they found one universal similarity, Davila said. “Students are the same all over.”

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