Portland Tribune: Study abroad student shares experience
Author: Christopher Keizur, Portland Tribune
Posted: June 7, 2016

Read the original story in the Portland Tribune. 

When Portland State University junior Nora Fatland returned home for a week to share her study abroad experience with local students at Mt. Tabor Middle School, she was greeted with enthusiasm and a dance.

Fifty students in Sofia Segurola-Calderon’s introductory Spanish classes sang their welcome song for Fatland, whose blog they had been reading and commenting on throughout her time abroad. Fatland, a Spanish language and literature major, has been spending the term in Valparaíso, Chile.

“I was excited to get to share my experiences with the students,” Fatland says. “Make them excited about learning Spanish, traveling and learning about a different culture.”

Fatland was participating in PSU’s Reporting Live Capstone, a program where students studying all over the world share their experiences with local Portland kids. Since the program began in 2011, 100 PSU students have completed the process.

“Connecting across differences through storytelling is a major theme we explore in this class,” says Reporting Live instructor Katherine Kangas, “and it requires my bloggers to really tune into both global and local systems, and bridge these two spaces through their reporting.”

The result is a rich experience for both the study abroad participants and local Portland students.

The blogs, such as the one Fatland wrote, are interactive — with interesting posts, photos and videos. Those become an avenue for the Portland-based students to explore a new culture, with the PSU bloggers serving as their eyes and ears in a foreign country.

“It made me go seek out certain experiences and places so I could write about it for them,” Fatland says.

At the start of each class, Segurola-Calderon would open up the blog to read Nora’s responses to the hundreds of comments and questions posed by the students. Some were simple, like which stray dog she thought was the cutest or what meal she enjoyed most, while others were more profound.

The goal of the program is to help foster a love for Spanish among the Portland students.

“For this experience, I wanted people to fall in love with the language, with those who speak the language and the culture,” Segurola-Calderon says. “The best way to do all three for those with no knowledge of Spanish is the blog, because Nora travels for them.”

If students become interested when they are in sixth grade, by the time they get to college many will be bilingual. This will allow them to meet the two-year language requirement in high school and earn college credit, and enrich their own travel to new places.

Being in a foreign country is the best way to learn a new language, with Fatland crediting how much she picked up from the locals, including her host family. It also offers a chance to work with the kids back home.

“I really like working with students,” Fatland says. “I had done tutoring and stuff like that before, and this is an age group I really like.”

During her visit, gifts were exchanged. The class had given Fatland a ball signed by everyone, a Mt. Tabor shirt and a fan. Fatland brought the students special treats from Chile, and showed them money and photos from her time there.

Fatland was back in the U.S. for only a week, then needed to return to Chile to complete her program. While she plans to spend her senior year here in Portland, she has been talking with her husband about moving to Chile after they graduate.

Segurola-Calderon hopes her current students will be the ones coming back to meet with future classes.

“This blog makes my students want to come to class and not be late,” Segurola-Calderon says. “The class may end, and maybe they will have only learned a few words, but they will always remember Chile and her.”