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UIU-Proyecta Exchange students experience the ‘American dream’

There’s not much more American, than hamburgers, hot dogs, baseball, and people of the Heartland. Upper Iowa University is in hopes a small contingent of Mexican educators, business professionals, and college students recently returned to their country with a lesson in the culture of the United States and the English language.

Each of the visitors qualified for the cultural exchange to the UIU-Fayette Campus via a Proyecta scholarship sponsored by the Mexican government. Meanwhile, Upper Iowa initially applied to participate in the exchange program in March. A month later the university was notified it had been chosen to host 10 Mexican citizens.

As part of the Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation, and Research (FOBESII), the Proyecta 100,000 program is an example of the renewed cooperation between the governments of Mexico and the United States. While promoting higher education, innovation, and research, the initiative was also developed to help Mexico increase its economic value and competitiveness. Among its goals is to increase the number of Mexican students in the U.S. to 100,000 by 2018. At the same time, the program aims to increase the number of American students in Mexico to 50,000.

“The Proyecta 100,000 program at UIU went very well. The students worked hard on their courses and participated in a variety of excursions and activities that complimented their in-classroom lectures. More importantly, the students achieved their desired outcomes, and on a more personal level, a true connection between the participants and UIU faculty and staff was developed,” stressed Ismael Betancourt, UIU vice-president for Internal Education. “We will continue our participation in the program and look forward to staying in touch with these and future students.”

Consisting of six English teachers, two engineering professors, and two university/technical students, UIU’s guests arrived on the Fayette campus for orientation on Tuesday, May 26. Classroom studies officially began on Monday, June 1, and the visitors returned to their native country on Friday, June 26.

“I had never been to the States and I wanted to learn about the American culture from inside the country. When I heard we were visiting the Midwest I was very interested because I knew we would be going somewhere that is truly American,” said 32-year-old psychologist/English teacher Jesus Sanchez, before the group’s departure. “Now I am able to go back to Mexico knowing that I experienced, if only for a month, ‘the American dream.’”

In addition to improving their English speaking and pronunciation skills on a personal level, teachers Frank Soria and Ana Contreras agreed that learning more about the American culture was a major reason they had wished to participate in the exchange program.

The three professionals from Queretaro, Mexico, each hoped to have the opportunity to return to northeast Iowa, with Contreras commenting, “I didn’t expect so many friendly people. We witnessed a lot of culture and had a great time during our experience.”

“Everyone seemed so gentle and kind,” added Soria. “This has changed me as a human.”

“My goal was not only for our guests to improve their English skills, but also get them out of the classroom and have some fun, while at the same time obtaining a good impression of Iowa and our American culture,” said David Stewart, UIU Intensive English Program instructor .

Among the topics of instruction were writing essays and persuasive e-mails; fiction, slang, and other informal language; and a writing a mini-research paper on American culture. Among their outside classroom and weekend trips were visits to the home of UIU President William Duffy for an old-fashioned barbecue, a buffalo ranch, local dairy farm, UIU’s Harms-Eischeid Stadium, Montauk, John Deere, Mall of America, Pike’s Peak, Mississippi River, and a Cedar Rapids Kernels baseball game.

Stewart noted that the minor league baseball game especially provided both a lesson in linguistics and hospitality. He explained the UIU contingent was seated next to the visiting Lansing Lugnuts’ bullpen, whose catcher was from the Dominican Republic. The Mexican visitors and baseball player attempted to communicate throughout the game and a number of the exchange students were rewarded with autographed baseballs.

“This was the first visit to the United States for a majority of the students. Many of them carried expectations from American movies and television series,” closed Stewart. “Hopefully they enjoyed their visit to Upper Iowa, Fayette, and the surrounding area. I certainly plan on keeping in touch with each and every one of them.”

It appears the recently completed Proyecta Exchange not only succeeded in promoting higher education, innovation, and research, but also developed bonds that span all borders.

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