During my time in Ecuador, I learned an incredible amount of information about teaching ESL, the cultures of Ecuador, and Student sitting at their desk. about myself. Through this course, my awareness of culture and teaching has increased dramatically. I hope to be able to translate this into success in and out of the classroom. Thank you for a fantastic, rewarding, and mentally taxing experience!" — Mollie Davis, Koc School, Istanbul, Turkey

"The TESL program was a valuable experience that taught me new ways to appreciate the cultural backgrounds of both my students and fellow educators. The time spent in Ecuador was an incredible experience where I learned about teaching approaches, my students' needs and goals, the Ecuadorian people, and myself. As a result of this program, I have the ability to understand the frustrations and challenges that students face when learning a new language and trying to fit into a new culture. My experience in Ecuador was one of the most challenging but rewarding experiences I have ever been through. This program not only helped me become a stronger educator, but it also helped me build my confidence and find new ways to appreciate and learn from people who come from backgrounds different than mine. Thank you for a truly rewarding and memorable experience." — Jake Nisenfeld, Regional Special Education Coordinator and ESL Specialist, PHASE 4 Learning Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

"Although I have always been interested in other cultures, my experiences in Ecuador will help me better understand my future ESL students. I believe that all prospective ESL teachers should have the experience of going to a place where they don't speak the language and where the culture is different. Because I have had this experience, I will understand my students' frustrations at cultural differences and I will identify with their desire to blend in." — Catherine Carbaugh, Central Fulton School District

"The coping skills I had to use in Ecuador, the things I learned about teaching others, and the feelings I felt in that situation reflect how my cultural understanding has grown. I feel that my successes, failures, and emotions while learning and living in a different language and a new culture will help me relate better to my students and the wider world." — Lucinda Megill, Master's student TESOL, School for International Training 

"The ESL program at Penn State has got to be one of the most amazing programs offered by the University. The course work and the field experience in Ecuador form an incomparable program of preparation for future educators of English language learners. Now, as an ESOL teacher of students who are WIDA levels 1 through 3, I cannot express how invaluable my experience in Ecuador was for the development of my teaching skills and for the preparation of being an ESOL teacher. What I gained from my experience in the classroom in Ecuador has proven to help me as an ESOL teacher in Virginia in ways that I didn't imagine it would. In Ecuador, I was able to practice teaching and working with students with minimal English skills, and I was shocked to find that even here in the U.S., I have to strategize to conquer these same challenges. I cannot imagine having earned my certificate in a way that did not incorporate a field experience like the one I had in Ecuador. What I learned and experienced in Otavalo has in every way been useful in my planning and teaching here in Virginia. The classroom in Ecuador parallels my classroom here in the States more than I initially imagined it would, and that has helped me to be a better, more prepared ESOL teacher." — Mia Taylor, ESOL Teacher, Carl Sandburg Middle School, Fairfax County, Virginia 

"The TESL program was carefully planned and well thought-out. I believe that having teachers participate in the study abroad is a valuable opportunity, and I hope you continue to offer it. This is truly an intensive program. When you include the home-stay (which is generally included in consideration for credits), the program is bursting at the seams!" — Julie Hawkes, Unionville-Chadds Ford School District

"The TESL program has really made me question my "station" in life. I had been pondering a switching of fields, and now I am considering getting my masters in ESL education as well as a Spanish teaching certificate, and eventually working at the collegiate level where I can do research and engage circles of colleagues with similar interests. I didn't realize how much I missed the study of languages. Thank you for helping me remember where my spark was!" — Kim McElhatten, Spring Cove School District

"Penn State's ESL certification course in Ecuador was an absolutely amazing experience for me, both personally and professionally. The chance to discover another culture and revive my Spanish while working toward my professional goals would have been more than enough encouragement to go to any Latin American country, but getting to know Ecuador was an incredible experience that I still treasure — it's hard to argue with the Andes as the backdrop for your daily walk to school. Professionally, not a day goes by when I don't call on the knowledge I gained through my linguistics courses and the experiences gleaned from my teaching practicum in Otavalo in my classroom here in Pennsylvania. Penn State's program includes necessary courses in linguistics in tandem with hands-on, applicable techniques for effectively integrating this knowledge into your classroom plans. It's invaluable. And the immersion experience and language-learning component of the course is a magic and, more important, empathetic combination — it was a vital reminder of what it means to be a student of another language in a new culture; something my current ELLs experience every day. Empathy is a foundation for communication and education and that, in addition to practical linguistics course work and its classroom application, made Penn State's ESL certification program worth every penny and then some. Plus, my host family and my fellow students became like family to me, and Ecuador's gorgeous. I loved learning about Ecuadorean culture and wish I was still there!" - Carolyn Keller, ESL Instructor, Penn College of Technology, Williamsport, Pennsylvania

For further information about participants' experience, listen to alumni participants Laura Leyde and Jesse Blythe at 3Rivers TESOL presentation, Pittsburgh, PA from October 30, 2013.