How English changed our lives: Leading the Way scholarship recipients share what they learned after traveling to the U.S.

Students from all generations of this program, which seeks to enhance the learning of English at UC using methodologies such as the Global Classroom, and which is crowned with a five-week study trip to Drexel University in Philadelphia, agreed that this language has opened doors for them and has given them wings to continue developing their personal and professional projects.

They are of different majors and ages, but they all have in common having traveled to Drexel University, in Philadelphia, for 5 weeks to live an experience of learning English, interculturalism and, above all, to go beyond what they thought were their limits. These are the students of the Catholic University who have been part of the Leading the Way Program & Scholarship, who recently had the opportunity to meet again in an activity organized jointly by the Projects and Philanthropy Department and UC Global Formation Department, belonging to the Vice Rector’s Office for International Affairs.

Leading the Way is an initiative that seeks to strengthen the knowledge and use of English in undergraduate students from socioeconomically vulnerable contexts. It is carried out by English UC Language Center and the Projects and Philanthropy Department with the support of Friends of Catholic University in Chile, Inc. (Friends UC), a non-profit organization based in the United States that collaborates with the Catholic University in its initiatives and projects.

The first stage of Leading the Way consists of English language training in Chile, with an emphasis on the socio-cultural and historical context of the United States. This process includes the Global Classroom, a joint initiative with Drexel University that seeks to increase the contact of students from both countries with native speakers of the language they are studying. In this way, a group of Drexel Spanish students meet with their peers from Leading the Way, fostering the exchange of ideas and cultural interaction.

At the end of this stage, the students apply for the Leading the Way Scholarship, which allows them to go to Drexel University for 5 weeks and is granted by Friends UC. «All the students report that the interaction, in the language they are learning, with peers from another university is very enriching. In addition, the course has a project-based methodological design, which requires the constant use of English by each course participant. It is incredible how much confidence the students in the program gain in their language skills, even if they are not selected for the internship,» says Paula Ross, academic and senior associate director of English UC.

More than 80 young people benefited

This project is in its seventh version, and – counting the students who traveled in early January 2023 to the main city of the State of Pennsylvania – there are 81 young people who have benefited from the scholarship since 2015. Several gathered in December, not only to share with each other, but also to talk with Professor María de la Luz Matus, an academic from Drexel University who has worked directly with the Leading the Way scholarship recipients. She was in Chile participating in the seminar «Internationalization at home: keys to global collaborative teaching», organized by the Vice Rector’s Office for International Affairs and the Center for Faculty Development (CDDoc) of the Academic Vice Rector’s Office.

The group that traveled to Drexel University in July 2022

«With Drexel University in Philadelphia for several years we have been conducting the Leading the Way program, where a group of 12 to 14 of our students, depending on each year, will have a stay to improve their English. We have worked with the Friends UC Foundation and we have had wonderful experiences of stays of about a month there; we have said goodbye to them when they are leaving, we have talked with them at breakfast for an hour with the English they are developing, we have received them back after several months, and we have seen how there is a very significant growth in terms of their learning», said Rector Ignacio Sanchez during the seminar.

Opening doors

Maribel Flórez, director of Global Formation of the UC Vice Rector’s Office for International Affairs, highlighted that «Leading the Way is the first Global Classroom experience in which our university participates, and it is something that seems to us to have a lot of potential in different areas of the UC». Indeed, the transformative impact of this experience was evident when hearing the life stories of those who were present. This is the case of Tamara Abarca, who took the English course in 2019 and who, in January 2020, before the pandemic arrived, traveled to Philadelphia.

A fifth-year student of Electrical Civil Engineering, she noted that the program has helped her a lot in her subsequent career: «My English skills have improved a lot; now I can read papers in English, for example, and that is very useful, because now I can share that information with my classmates. I’m also used to programming, and that’s all done in English, but, also, if you’re looking for the answer to something, everything on the Internet is in English. So, for me, English is a very useful tool.» Today she is preparing to make use of her language skills, since she is part of the team that won the 3DEXPERIENCE VALUE 2021 contest, organized by Talentum Digital and which called students from 8 universities, so in August she will travel to Boston to visit MIT and the offices of Dassault Systèmes. «I feel very confident about going to Boston, because I have the necessary tools to present my project, for which I am very grateful,» she expressed.

Tamara Abarca on her trip to the U.S. in 2020

More recent is the experience of José Ignacio Marín, who is studying speech therapy and traveled to Philadelphia last July. «Leading the Way is a change of life. We had the opportunity to be part of another university outside our country, and that is so different; we were able to be part of American classrooms, meet people from different countries, different cultures, not only Americans. I improved my English level, I feel more confident when I speak, even writing in Spanish is easier now», said the young man, who is doing his internship at the UC Health Network. 

As of January 3, 2023, 9 students will experience something similar to what Tamara and José Ignacio describe. It is expected that during the second semester of 2023 the eighth call of the program will be opened to continue, in this way, supporting more students to expand their horizons through the English language.