In 2012, OU launched a new partnership with LeadAbroad, an immersive study abroad program that combines the principles of leadership, education, adventure and diplomacy into five-week trips to countries scattered around the globe. Created by dynamic entrepreneurs who have a heart for service and a spirit of adventure, LeadAbroad is a program for young people, run by young people. LeadAbroad aims to “transform the trajectory of individuals’ lives through leadership service and personal development,” – a mission that aligns with Oglethorpe’s goal for its students.
The unique program includes two weeks of classroom learning, two weeks of service learning, and one week of adventure. Oglethorpe serves as the academic coordinator for the program, approving all academic faculty, syllabi, course pedagogy and materials for the two courses: Leadership in Action and Global Citizenship & Service Learning. All participating students take Oglethorpe University courses within the context of LeadAbroad’s programs in Ecuador, Greece and South Africa. Students from universities around the country earn six Oglethorpe credit hours that transfer to students’ home universities.
In July 2013, Oglethorpe students Emmanuel Brantley ’15 and Briana Mongerson ’13 were the first Petrels to benefit from this new partnership. They journeyed to Ecuador alongside 22 students from other universities, led by Oglethorpe’s Dr. Mario Chandler, associate professor of Spanish. During the two weeks of academic instruction, Dr. Chandler taught two courses, developed to meet the requirements and goals of Oglethorpe’s curriculum.
Leadership in Action
The first course focused on teaching core principles of leadership by using the historical context and perspectives of South American peoples. The course, “Leadership in Action,” helped students to settle into the customs of their temporary home by helping them to converse and connect with local people, experience first-hand the daily lives and the history of Ecuadorians. From studying about the sobering history of the enslaved indigenous peoples, to learning how to hail a cab and which foods to order (or not) in restaurants, LeadAbroad students were immersed in the culture of the Ecuadorian people in ways that exceeded the limits of textbooks.
“Dr. Chandler gave insight on how to be ‘the mindful traveler’ and impact Ecuador’s culture in a positive direction,” shared LeadAbroad student Louise Powers, a junior at the University of Tennessee. “We even had a Survival Spanish class and put this to the test walking to the top of Basilica Del Voto Nacional and at the welcome dinner.”
The leadership training went further, teaching the students to push themselves out of their comfort zones in other ways. “The physical activities, like mountain biking and hiking, allow students to experience what we are talking about in class,” discovered Emmanuel. “It’s not just talking about who you are as a leader, but you are really able to bring what you are learning in class to life. You are leading yourself to be more fearless and to tackle these physical challenges.” Understanding historical and cultural perspectives and how to push themselves to be ‘fearless’ also helped to prepare the students for their coming weeks of service.
Global Citizenship & Service
Students segued into the service learning part of their experience during the second course, “Global Citizenship and Service,” which challenged students to create framework for service projects in Ecuador as well as for their home communities in the U.S.
“Our professor, Dr. Chandler, kicked off the morning with one of his most powerful lessons yet,” wrote Matt Edwards from University of Tennessee in a blog documenting the trip. “After discussing poverty and service in our local [Ecuadorian] communities, we shared problems we see in our own neighborhoods and brainstormed ways we can take action. …The lessons and tools we have been given to spark change and better our world are really becoming evident. It’s truly invigorating to be part of this group of brilliant young minds that is realizing its potential to impact the world.”
Students used what they learned in the classroom to transition into teaching ESL (English as a second language) to young Ecuadorian children. Students volunteered at an institute called Honrar la Vida (honor life), created to help educate, integrate and validate the cultural contributions of black Ecuadorian youth, called afroecuatorianos, who historically have been the victims of discrimination and marginalized in Ecuadorian society.
Students connected with the children of Honor La Vida, teaching them the English alphabet, days of the week, and songs to help them remember animal names. But, it was the children who made the biggest impression.
“Teaching ESL was one of the best learning experiences I have had in a long time,” said Oglethorpe’s Briana Mongerson, who hopes to continue teaching ESL. “I had kids ranging [in age] from 11-15 in the class and we covered the alphabet, colors, days of the week and their names…. Although these kids didn’t have much, they are filled with joy, smiles and hugs. I love the impact that they have made on me and never will forget those beautiful faces from Honar La Vida.”
“Most LeadAbroad students come into the week thinking that they are going to give knowledge and time to the local students, but what we end up taking away is the love and gratitude of being able to share in their experience,” explained Carolyn Prebil, LeadAbroad’s director of marketing and program director for the Ecuador trip. “It is incredible to see the bonds that form throughout the week despite any cultural or language barriers.”
Emmanuel, who is now serving as a LeadAbroad ambassador to encourage other students to participate, agrees. “You hear that other study abroad trips make a big impact, but on this trip we were directly involved and in touch with the people, history and nature of the country—and it really had a life-changing impact.”
Find out more about LeadAbroad’s programs.