The first class of participants in the Academy for Global Scholars traveled to San José, Costa Rica, for a week-long service–learning experience in May. Nineteen University of Tennessee, Knoxville, students planted trees and flowers, laid sod, and repurposed items into the landscape at Parque La Libertad (Liberty Park), a social inclusion park project located in the country’s capital city, a press release from the university said.

A program for first-year first-generation students offered by UT’s Center for Global Engagement in collaboration with the Division of Enrollment Management, the Academy for Global Scholars aims to provide students with opportunities for global engagement and individual growth through a general education course, cultural programming, service activities and a study abroad experience.

Trip leaders Doug Terry, a teaching associate with the English Language Institute, and Annastasia Williams, a coordinator of the Programs Abroad Office, designed the trip for students to experience service–learning while engaged in cultural immersion.

Before the trip, students were taught some Spanish slang to aid in their stay with local families, as each student was paired with a host family, the release said.

For many of the students, like Lauren Boles, a graduate of South Greene High School and current global studies major at UT, it was their first time out of the country.

“When we first arrived, I was still surrounded by my peers. The culture shock didn’t hit me until I was alone with my host family. I was upset with myself for not learning more Spanish,” Boles said.

She spent the next day learning simple phrases from her friends.

“By the end of the week I was feeling more comfortable with the language. The experience allowed me to step out of the boxes that I am in and, as corny as it sounds, it helped broaden my cultural horizons and solidified my choice in major,” she said.

The study abroad experience served as a capstone for students’ participation in the Academy for Global Scholars, in which they took courses together to prepare them for an experience abroad and develop skills in intercultural communication and global citizenship, the release said. While abroad, students explored Costa Rica, visiting Isla Tortuga, La Paz Waterfall Gardens and historical sites in San José.

“In the Center for Global Engagement, we are all really invested in internationalization and why that’s valuable to our campus,” said Williams. “Being able to oversee this program throughout the pandemic year, what these students have accomplished, and the impact the program has had on them, has been an amazing experience.”

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