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College of Education > News and Publications > News: July-September 2014 > Study Abroad Program in Ecuador to Hold Information Session

Study Abroad Program in Ecuador to Hold Information Session

The teaching English as a Second Language certificate program that features a five-week immersion experience in Ecuador is holding an information session on September 30.

Map of Ecuador
Map of Ecuador with Otavalo and Cuenca Identified
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The College of Education announced it is holding an information session on a teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) certificate program that features a five-week immersion experience in Ecuador. Students who are interested in learning more about how to obtain their ESL certificate are encouraged to attend the session at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, September 30, in 105 Rackley Building.

Elizabeth Smolcic, assistant professor in the College of Education, coordinates the program each year. She said that students who are learning English as an additional language while they acquire academic-content knowledge make up the most rapidly growing segment of the student population in the U.S.

“English-learning student populations are growing rapidly in rural areas and places which have historically not experienced large immigrant populations,” said Smolcic. “As a result, there is a great demand for teachers who have been certified to work with English-learning students in ESL and bilingual programs, who understand what it means to become bilingual. This need will most certainly continue to grow into the future.”

Student with child
A Penn State student with an Ecuadorian child.
The College of Education’s ESL program with the Ecuador immersion offers students the chance to learn about current ESL instructional strategies and apply them with English-language learners in the classroom. Educators learn how to adapt content and language materials, build awareness of language learning processes and help English learners to engage in classroom work.

“During the five-week immersion experience in Ecuador, our students learn Spanish in a classroom situation,” said Smolcic. “They also live with Ecuadorian host families who mostly speak no English. Thus, students are living a culture and language immersion experience that is parallel to what English-language learners experience when they come to the U.S.”

Smolcic said that students who participate in the program will move through life in a Spanish-speaking environment, needing to figure out ways to communicate, understand the local cultures and ways of doing things. 

“This is an experience that is not so readily available here in our English-speaking environment,” said Smolcic. “It's amazing how much we grow and how our awareness expands through experience-based learning.”

Another important aspect of the program, according to Smolcic, is that students who are teaching English to groups of Ecuadorian elementary and high-school children receive immediate feedback and support from expert ESL instructors.

This program is for any Penn State student or in-service teacher with a strong interest in language learning and teaching, said Smolcic. 

“Students who want to be fully prepared as educators for the diversity that we find in public school classrooms should participate,” said Smolcic.  “We want students who are interested in broadening their life experience to become intercultural educators. We don't require that students already have previous international or language learning experiences because we support students as they move through the program to develop their own cultural competencies.”

Normally, the program accepts from 16 to 18 Penn State students, but Smolcic said that for 2015, the program is opening up a new site in the colonial city of Cuenca in southern Ecuador, at the Universidad de Cuenca. This means that more students will be able to participate.

However, the application process begins soon, and applications are due by mid-November. 

The program begins in January with a blended online and face-to-face course that looks at the English language, so students develop in-depth knowledge of the language they will teach. Next, students continue with weekend course sessions during May and June before departure for Ecuador at the end of June. 

“Because the entire program is a 15-credit, five-course program and includes 60 hours of teaching practice, we begin many of the courses before we depart for Ecuador,” said Smolcic. “Some sessions also orient the students to travel abroad, share how to be prepared and help to shape their expectations. It is a highly intensive experience and very demanding for most of the summer. One can expect to be busy with the ESL certificate courses, but one can also expect to learn and be transformed by this exciting journey to another world.”

For more information on the ESL program with Ecuador immersion, visit

--by (September 2014)