At the end of my summer, I was most struck by how much speaking English can make a difference in a family’s income. I wasn’t just serving as a cultural ambassador. I was aiding in families’ economic empowerment. My experience in the Social Science Scholars Program has made me want to continue teaching English abroad. I hope to spend the 2018-2019 academic year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Colombia.
With degrees in both Social Science and STEM fields, I decided to merge my interests together and spend my last summer volunteering at an international non-profit. La Asociacion CREAR provides free programs focused on creativity, language development, critical thinking, and economic empowerment in rural Costa Rica. As an Operations Intern, I dedicated my time to creating a sustainable data infrastructure while helping where I could in an under-resourced non-profit. To fully immerse myself in this experience, I lived with a Spanish-speaking host family and engaged in Costa Rican culture by competing in local soccer leagues and enjoying family parties.
With most of my job description falling within administrative work, I was fortunate to collaborate with the Executive Director, Andrea, on a daily basis. She was straightforward with her expectations, and we worked well together. Over my eight-week internship, I programmed a data infrastructure to incorporate volunteers and donors into CREAR, expanded educational enrichment programming, developed a monitoring and evaluation strategy to improve community engagement, and redeveloped the internship program to increase capacity and alleviate an administrative burden on the staff. Outside of my job description, I did everything from teaching art class to redeveloping their accounting system. I also managed the logistics and on-site work for six international volunteer groups. At the end of my internship, I left Costa Rica satisfied that I had left CREAR with a sustainable foundation for growth.
CREAR is an exceptional non-profit because it continuously invests in the needs of the people it serves. Andrea is enmeshed in the community. This is important because Andrea works within a community structure, instead of imposing her values on the community. In early June, CREAR was asked by a local principal to provide native English speakers to judge a high school English spelling bee. I attended with Andrea. I was struck by how deceptive the English language can be – students asked to spell “bank” and “skull” instead spelled “bake” and “scold”, or asked to spell “heel” and “right” without any context lead to “heal” and “write.” The student who moved on to represent the entire high school was the student who asked for context each time. That same evening, I returned to facilitate and judge an impromptu conversation competition. Each of the adult competitors had to hold a four-minute conversation with me in English. This experience helped me appreciate the local teachers’ strong emphasis on speaking proficiency, which is paramount for English language development. Throughout the whole event, Andrea was chatting with school faculty and students, enthusiastic about the CREAR graduates in the competition.
At the end of my summer, I was most struck by how much speaking English can make a difference in a family’s income. I wasn’t just serving as a cultural ambassador. I was aiding in families’ economic empowerment. My experience in the Social Science Scholars Program has made me want to continue teaching English abroad. I hope to spend the 2018-2019 academic year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Colombia. Following that, I would like to earn a second graduate degree in public policy and specialize in United States foreign policy dealing with Latin America.
About the Author: Amanda Schell is part of Social Science Scholars class of 2018, double majoring in Statistics and International Affairs.