ESU graduates become cultural ambassadors

East Stroudsburg University has been involved with the Spanish Ministry of Education since 2007, giving graduates the opportunity to teach their culture and their language to Spanish students. Left: Marisa Pagán-Figueroa ’14 taught on Menorca Island in the Mediterranean Sea. Top right: Tyler Black ’14 was placed in Alcalá de Henares in Madrid. Bottom Right: Marinda LaBarre ’14 was placed in town of Guadalupe in the province of Cáceres.

It may be a little intimidating. There may be some nerve-racking moments now and then.

But nearly every East Stroudsburg University student who has been recruited by the Ministry of Education and lived and worked in Spain, where they served as cultural ambassadors, describes the experience as life-altering.

It’s those stories that Esther Daganzo-Cantens, Ph.D., ESU associate professor of Spanish, has heard time and time again since 2007 – when ESU became involved in this program with the Spanish Ministry of Education.  And it’s those same stories that she can’t help but share with her current students. The tales of meeting a future spouse, the amazing videos of traveling throughout Europe, the photos of interacting and making a difference in the life of a child have just been too enticing for Daganzo-Cantens’ students to pass up.

According to Daganzo-Cantens, “I have worked to provide ESU students majoring in Spanish and any other students with an intermediate level of Spanish with the best professional development opportunities available to them after they graduate from ESU. The Spanish Ministry of Education and the Government of Spain offer college graduates one of the best opportunities for them to not only gain a deep knowledge of the culture and language of Spain but also to develop a better understanding of the global society in which we live.”

Seven recent ESU graduates have gone through the rigorous application process, been invited to serve as cultural ambassadors in Spain and are very interested in attending beginning in September. For nine months, they will help teach students the English language in addition to helping Spanish students learn about the United States and its culture. To participate in this experience, students must have a grade point average of 3.0, have earned a bachelor’s degree, completed at least two semesters of Spanish (considered Level 2), and need a letter of recommendation. Such criteria opens the door for someone who has a science degree but also significant knowledge of Spanish to take part. In that scenario, a cultural ambassador is the ideal candidate to become an aid in a biology or chemistry class. Since the program’s inception at ESU in 2007, more than 20 students have been cultural ambassadors.

The seven 2018 ESU graduates are Christine Belbey, Communication Sciences & Disorders, B.S., Metuchen, N.J.; Mallory Johnson, Communication Sciences & Disorders, B.S., Northampton, Pa.; Layla Irby, Spanish, B.A. and Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management, B.S., Bethlehem, Pa.; Taina Moore, Political Science, B.A., Harrisburg, Pa.; Stephanie Castillo, Sociology, B.A. and Criminal Justice, B.S, Bogota, N.J.; Stephanie Provost, Communication Sciences & Disorders, B.S., Hazle Township, Pa.; and Kelsey Corpac, Criminal Justice, B.S., Patchogue, N.Y.

Daganzo-Cantens adds, “As Cultural Ambassadors in Spain, ESU students are able to teach their culture and their language to Spanish students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, and at Centers of Modern Languages. This program has a duration of an academic year (9 months) in which students work 12 to 16 hours per week (depending on the Autonomic Community in Spain), and they are compensated with a competitive salary and other amenities. After completion of this program, students receive a diploma from Spain’s Ministry of Education and in some cases they can receive graduate credits for a master’s in education and/or Spanish.”

“They say it’s been life-changing,” Daganzo-Cantens said. “Our students come back with an open mind and another way of thinking that they cannot gain by staying here in the United States.”

Stephanie Castillo, a 2018 graduate from ESU, is one of the 2,300 recent college grads from the United States who will take part this fall. She graduated in May with her degree in criminal justice and sociology and a minor in Spanish. The Bogota, N.J., native knew this was an opportunity she couldn’t miss.

“It’s something completely different than anything I’ve ever done before,” Castillo said. “I feel like it’s a great learning experience. I think it will be a great opportunity that can really help me to decide if I want to go back to school for education.”

In preparation for her adventure, Castillo is spending the summer saving money so she can travel throughout Europe and make the best of all the opportunities she’ll have in front of her. But she admits that in the early stages of the application process, she wasn’t 100 percent certain it would work out.

But Castillo confirms that there’s a place for her in the program.

“I can’t wait to go.”