Fulbright recipients say exchange can enrich lives of local learners | SummitDaily.com

Fulbright recipients say exchange can enrich lives of local learners

special to the daily
CMC/Jim Lamb

DILLON – Uprooting one’s life as a professional with a family and moving to another country for a year can be a challenging and exciting experience. So Fulbright exchange partners Sharon Aguiar, from Dillon, and Gabriel Aguilar, from Mexico, are looking forward to learning as much as they can during the experience.

Aguiar and Aguilar (note the slight name difference; Gabriel’s surname contains an “L”) are trading places for one academic year. The instructors were awarded grants for 2009-10 through the Fulbright Classroom Teacher Exchange Program. Recipients of the prestigious Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievements as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. The program is operated through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The Fulbright Web site (www.fulbrighteacherexchange.org) explains the benefits of the exchange program: “By living and working abroad, exchange teachers gain an understanding and appreciation of different educational systems and cultures, and enrich their schools and communities by providing students with new perspectives about the world in which they live.”

“I think it will help me in my job and help the students a lot,” said Sharon Aguiar, associate professor of English as a second language at Colorado Mountain College in Dillon. “I think that the opportunity for CMC to have an international professor teaching will be an invaluable opportunity as well.”

Breckenridge resident Aguiar is one of approximately 60 U.S. citizens traveling abroad this year as part of the classroom exchange. She is the only community college participant in the program this year, according to Stephen Money, Fulbright program officer.

Sharon Aguiar said a temporary goodbye to her husband, who teaches at Summit High School, and traveled with her 8-year-old daughter, Alice, to the state of Guanajuato in central Mexico. She is teaching beginning and intermediate English-language classes to students age 16 and older at CECATI #146, a vocational school in the city of Leon, the fifth-largest municipality in Mexico. Her third-grade daughter is taking classes at a bilingual Montessori school, not that different from her dual-language classes at Dillon Valley Elementary.

Having taught in Summit County for 14 years, including six years at Colorado Mountain College, Aguiar said the big city life is quite a change. The school and students, however, are similar to what she’s experienced in Colorado.

“Except now I’m the immigrant. It’s a great perspective for me to have,” she said via e-mail. “People I talk with here have an interconnected worldview and value bilingualism.”

During the exchange, in Summit County’s Gabriel Aguilar will teach English as a Second Language classes in the evenings, as well as family literacy and ESL computer use. During his first week in the Colorado high country, city-dweller Aguilar took some 500 photos.

“This place is something else,” he said. “It’s beautiful. I think it’s a very peaceful area.

“Summit County is different from any place I’ve experienced in the U.S.,” he said. “I love the nature. I live next to a lake with an amazing view of the mountains, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming ski season.”

In addition to soaking in the natural and cultural differences, both teachers hope to learn new teaching techniques, skills and styles to take back to their home jobs. Aguilar, who has a master’s degree in business administration, will show his welcoming Colorado colleagues how he incorporates technology into his classroom. He makes movies with students so that they can learn English words visually. His homework assignments require students to record their verbal practice sessions and submit them to him via e-mail. He is communicating with friends at home on his Facebook page, and posted YouTube videos to introduce his American counterpart to Leon and the students.

Sharon, 45, and Gabriel, 39, got acquainted at a Fulbright training this summer in Washington, D.C., and are keeping in contact via e-mail. They learned they have a lot in common, including having both lived in Japan, where she taught English and he attended vocational training at the Polytechnic University of Tokyo.

“It’s important to keep learning,” said Sharon, who has a master’s degree in bilingual education. “This is such a great opportunity for me to learn more about the educational backgrounds of the students that I teach (in Colorado). It’s a great learning opportunity for everyone.”

“It’s a unique opportunity for me to help newcomers,” said Gabriel. “Learning English will afford them more opportunities and help them integrate into their new society in Summit County.”

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