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Puerto Rico Study Program Life-Changing Experience for Students

Learning the 'Bomba' to Decolonization, Among Highlights
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Student Anthony Flores discovered that indeed “The World is Your Classroom” earlier this summer when he studied in San Juan and Vieques, Puerto Rico. Flores and his classmates were exposed to the educational, social and health needs of the island population, and gained experience working for social change. Some of their activities included working on a community “finca,” or farm, and helping to conduct an exit poll on the recent referendum on decolonization.

The Puerto Rico International Education Program, tied to the course, “Literacy Education for Social Change,” is led by Julián Jefferies, assistant professor of literacy and reading education. This two-week, Cal State Fullerton study program brought together 16 students from across majors, several students from the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao, as well as faculty members from both universities. 

“The course and the chance to study in Puerto Rico helped immerse students in community-oriented research projects, offered a critical perspective of colonialism in education and gave them the opportunity to experience first-hand the cultures of Puerto Rico,” said Jefferies, who has organized the program since 2015.

For Flores, a criminal justice major who plans to graduate next year, it was not just the white sandy beaches, wild horses that roam the countryside, learning the “bomba,” a traditional dance, or nighttime kayaking to see microorganisms that give the water a blue-green glow, but also the educational and personal experiences.

What are some of the benefits for you and your peers?

This trip was life-changing in all aspects. We all came back with ideas for our communities, career goals, academic goals, personal goals — and much more. We all learned important life skills, not only on this trip, but also throughout the semester in class. Dr. Jefferies has a unique way of teaching because he doesn’t limit teaching to the four walls of a classroom. He goes above and beyond to help us learn about ourselves, understand the world around us and learn skills that are going to help us succeed in the future.

What one valuable lesson did you learn?

On a personal level, I learned first-hand what it means to be in solidarity with the people. I had the opportunity to complete exit poll surveys and interact with many Puerto Ricans who shared how they feel about the political issues affecting the island.

What were some of the highlights?

I volunteered to be on live radio show in Vieques along with some other students and we spoke about our island adventures and ourselves. We listened to a panel of women who spoke about issues affecting the island. We worked on a “finca” that provides fresh fruits and vegetables to the local community. We toured the El Fortín Conde de Mirasol fort, built in 1845, and museum, where we saw some amazing art exhibits that represent the oppression the people on the island went through. We took a tour of archeological sites and the U.S.-built bunkers. We toured the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, and had a dialogue with students who were active in the manifestations and the fight for justice within the universities. They explained why they demanded accessible and affordable education for all students. We also participated in workshops on career development, career options and grad school.

How did the experience help shape your academic goals?

It helped motivate me to finish strong and encouraged me to continue with grad school, which I wasn’t sure of before the trip. As for my future career goals, it reaffirmed that I want to pursue a career in international teaching.

Why participate in such study programs?

It takes you out of the classroom setting and into the real world. Before we left, Dr. Jefferies hosted a potluck with our parents. We all received a key chain with the words, ‘The World is Your Classroom.’ Those words describe the answer for this question. The things you learn while you’re in a program like this are things you can’t learn anywhere else. Every student should make an effort to go on a study away or study abroad program. It will absolutely have an impact on their academic and personal lives.