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Expanding horizons

Posted 8:32 a.m. Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Lizzie Nelson was one of eight TESOL education majors to study in Puerto Rico for field experience.

Puerto Rico trip creates more placements for TESOL education majors

Lizzie Nelson entered college knowing she wanted to study abroad. However, she never expected she would study abroad twice. 

“Once I checked my box for studying abroad, I didn't think I would again,” says Nelson, a junior studying elementary and middle school education and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).  

Nelson studied in Japan during summer 2023, and in winter 2024, was among eight education majors who traveled to Puerto Rico for the School of Education’s inaugural trip to Puerto Rico for TESOL field experience.  

“In March 2023, I added TESOL to my major, meaning I had to fulfill more credits,” Nelson says. “I became aware of the Puerto Rico trip and thought, ‘Why not?’” 

The initiative for the Puerto Rico trip came from Heather Linville, chair of the Department of Educational Studies, who recognized the need to broaden field experience opportunities for TESOL education majors beyond local placements in La Crosse. 

She reached out to her professional contacts in Puerto Rico and identified a university there, the Inter Americana University of Puerto Rico – San German (IAUPR-SG), and a host counterpart that could support a study abroad program. 

“The goals of the TESOL field placement, whether in Puerto Rico or in Wisconsin, are that education majors gain experience applying the knowledge and skills they have learned about teaching English as a second language,” Linville says. “Our future teachers observe, work one-on-one with students, work with small groups, plan lessons, grade assignments and teach whole classes. In addition, the placement in Puerto Rico offers the opportunity for education majors to learn how to navigate a culture different from their own, gaining intercultural communication skills.” 

During her time in Puerto Rico, Nelson found how enriching it was to immerse herself in another culture, deepening her educational experience.

Nelson cherishes the memories and growth gained from her experiences abroad.

“I took Spanish from kindergarten to my senior year of high school, allowing me to feel more comfortable with those speaking around me. Puerto Ricans being bilingual dissolved the language barrier, which pushed me to immerse myself in new things,” Nelson says. “Being mindfully connected to the culture allowed me to enhance my education and see things past surface level.” 

In 2025, for education majors in their junior year, the TESOL field experience in Puerto Rico will be optional.  

“Starting with first-year students who entered this year, when they reach their junior year, the Puerto Rico TESOL field will be required,” Linville says. “Education majors will travel to Puerto Rico during J-term of their junior year and will take a course, TSL 460: TESOL Field Experience, while being placed in an English language classroom with an experienced English Learners (EL) teacher.” 

UWL’s partner university, IAUPR-SG, has a teacher education program and multiple local school contacts where they place their own education majors for field experiences. Their coordinator will also place UWL’s education majors, matching them with experienced EL teachers in English language classrooms. 

“The TESOL field in Puerto Rico is an amazing opportunity that cannot be replicated in Wisconsin,” Linville says. “Our future teachers are able to benefit from this experience because Puerto Rico schools are under the U.S. Department of Education. We are able to keep costs low because Puerto Rico is a part of the U.S. where you do not need a passport, and it is fairly easy to get to.” 

 The School of Education hopes to expand to more exchanges between UWL and IAUPR-SG in the future. 

"We are very fortunate to have identified a strong partner university with administrators who are as enthusiastic about this program as we are,” Linville says. 

As for Nelson, she cherishes the memories and growth gained from her experiences abroad. 

“I truly had unforgettable experiences,” Nelson says. “I have always wanted to travel the world, and UWL has provided the chance to do it with people you know and take courses that get you closer to graduation. In my eyes, it’s a win-win.” 

To explore all UWL’s study abroad opportunities, visit International Education & Engagement.


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