Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011
Amalia Vioque Fernandez came to Virginia Commonwealth University for the summer to improve her English-speaking skills.
“It was absolutely necessary for me; I improved my listening, and I am more relaxed,” said the researcher in biochemistry at the University of Cordoba (UCO) in Spain.
“I have discovered a different kind of people — more friendly,” Fernandez said. Without her own car in Richmond, she was surprised when a neighbor offered her a bike for the summer. “The people are amazing. I like the United States.”
Since 2007, students from UCO have come to VCU to learn English at the VCU Global Education Office (GEO) in the English Language Program (ELP), a part of VCU’s International Partnership Universities Initiative, a program that provides VCU faculty and students the opportunity for multicultural collaborative research grants and projects, internationalized curriculum, student and faculty exchanges, and joint conferences at 15 universities worldwide.
UCO and VCU are a part of a larger consortium with the University of Messina in Sicily, Italy, known as the Center for Integrative Mediterranean Studies (CIMS), a research and student/faculty exchange-based partnership with a focus on health, peace and security issues.
A reciprocal summer program offers VCU students the opportunity for language and cultural immersion at UCO.
“Spain is a country of growing global importance, and like the U.S., it faces the opportunities and challenges of increasing linguistic and religious diversity due in part to recent immigration,” said R. McKenna Brown, Ph.D., executive director of the VCU Global Education Office. “Its incredibly rich history provides an ideal learning environment for students preparing for almost any career. Hosting our Cordoba colleagues brings a bit more of the world to our community.”
“I would like to be bilingual,” said Laura Ventura Espejo, a doctoral student from UCO. She received a scholarship to participate in the ELP program and hopes to study medicine at VCU in the future.
Antonio Espinoza, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of History, participated in several academic and social activities that the students experienced while in Richmond. He sees the VCU-UCO partnership as beneficial on institutional, academic and local levels.
“[The program] gives ELP students at VCU the chance to interact with students from
Spain who are coming from a strong institution with high standards,” Espinoza said. “It also gives our university community the opportunity to learn more about Spain and Europe.”
According to Cassie Govan, ELP instructor, the students participated in a range of classes from conversation to U.S. history to writing. She explained that immersion in the English language while living in the U.S. led the group to become advanced students.
“They were so absorbed into learning,” Govan said. “They went above and beyond what was taught in the class.”
Through the VCU Global Education Office, the group traveled to Williamsburg, Va.; New York City; Washington, D.C.; and Virginia Beach.