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Leading the Way Scholarship Recipients Share Lessons Learned After Travelling to USA

This program promotes English learning at UC Chile using methodologies like the Global Classroom, culminating in a five-week study trip to Drexel University in Philadelphia. Participants of all ages agreed that learning English has opened doors for them and given them the ability to continue developing personally and professionally.

Fourteen students and one instructor are posing for the photo in front of a dragon statue, the Drexel University symbol.

photo_camera Participants from diverse programs and of various ages came together for a five-week English learning experience at Drexel University in Philadelphia, which challenged them to push their limits, embrace interculturalism, and experience personal growth.

A group of students from different disciplines and of diverse ages shared a unique experience of traveling to Drexel University in Philadelphia. At Drexel, they participated in a five-week program focused on learning English, interculturalism, and embracing personal growth. 

The students, who participated in the Leading the Way Program & Scholarship at UC Chile, were recently reunited at a joint activity organized by the Projects and Philanthropy Office and the UC Office of Global Education, part of the Office of the Vice President for International Affairs (VRAI, as per its spanish acronym). 

The program seeks to enhance the English language skills of undergraduate students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

It is a joint effort between the English UC Language Center and the Projects and Philanthropy Office, and is supported by Friends of Catholic University in Chile, Inc. (Friends UC), a nonprofit organization in the United States that partners with the Universidad Católica to advance its initiatives and projects.  

The first stage of the Leading the Way program focuses on English language training in Chile, and the social, cultural, and historical context of the United States.  

This process includes the Global Classroom, a joint initiative with Drexel University that seeks to provide students from both countries with more exposure to native speakers of the language they are learning.  

As part of this initiative, a group of Drexel Spanish students meet with their peers from Leading the Way, which fosters the exchange of ideas and cultural interaction.  

At the end of this stage, the students apply for the Leading the Way Scholarship, which is awarded by Friends UC and enables them to travel to Drexel University for a 5-week study program.  

According to Paula Ross, faculty member and senior associate director of English UC, “All students have reported that interacting with peers from another university in the language they are learning has been a very enriching experience. The course is designed with a project-based methodology that requires constant use of English by all participants, and it's incredible how much confidence the students in the program gain in their language skills, even if they are not selected for the internship.”

Over 80 Students Have Benefitted  

This is the seventh edition of the Leading the Way project. Since 2015, 81 students have benefitted from the scholarship, including those who travelled to Pennsylvania in January 2023.  

In December, several scholarship recipients came together not only to share their experiences but also to speak with Professor María de la Luz Matus, a Drexel University faculty member who has worked directly with Leading the Way scholarship holders.   

She was in Chile to participate in the seminar “Internationalization at Home: Keys to Global Collaborative Learning,” which was organized by the Office of the Vice President of International Affairs and the Center of Faculty Development (CDDoc, as per its spanish acronym) of the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs.  

“For several years now, we have been collaborating with Drexel University in Philadelphia to run the Leading the Way program, where a group of 12 to 14 of our students, depending on the year, have the opportunity to improve their English language skills through a month-long stay. We have worked closely with the Friends UC Foundation and have had wonderful experiences seeing our students off as they leave, talking to them over breakfast for an hour as they practice their English, welcoming them back after several months, and witnessing the significant growth in their learning," University President Ignacio Sánchez said during the seminar.  


Maribel Flórez, director of Global Education at the UC Office of the Vice President of International Affairs, highlighted that "Leading the Way is the first Global Classroom experience in which our university participates, and it is something that we think has a lot of potential for different areas of UC".  

Indeed, the transformative impact of this experience was evident in hearing the life stories of participants.  

Tamara Abarca is posing for the photo on a bridge in Philadelphia. Behind her are a lot of buildings and water.
Tamara Abarca on her trip to the United States in 2020 (Photo: personal archive). 

This is the case of Tamara Abarca, who participated in the English program in 2019 and went to Philadelphia in January 2020, just before the pandemic hit.  

A fifth-year student of Civil Electrical Engineering, Tamara said that the program has been very helpful for her career:  

"My English skills have improved a lot. Now I can read papers in English, for example, and that is very useful because I can share that information with my colleagues. I’m used to programming, which is done in English. Also, if you're looking for information, almost everything on the Internet is in English. So, for me, English is a valuable tool."  

A more recent experience is that of José Ignacio Marín, who is studying speech therapy and travelled to Philadelphia last July.  

"Leading the Way is life-changing. We had the opportunity to be part of another university outside our country, which is so different. We were able to be part of American classrooms, and meet people from different countries and cultures. I improved my English, and now I feel more confident when speaking, even writing in Spanish is easier now," said Marín, who is doing his internship at the UC Health Network.  

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