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ULM celebrates 45 years of travel abroad

Published May 21, 2020

(Note: This story was originally published in the first volume of ULM’s Takefight magazine in spring 2020. Since then, two faculty members interviewed have retired, Mary Blanche Wortham and Charles Holloway, Ph.D.)


Study abroad is an experience that significantly enriches a student’s academic journey. With the global society and workforce of today, students are required to have cultural competency skills that education abroad can provide. 

Students are challenged when entering a new country and gain a sense of independence through navigating a new region, and study abroad provides a unique outlet for students to apply what is learned in the classroom by becoming immersed in the language and culture.

The University of Louisiana Monroe Modern Languages program has been leading study abroad trips to Mexico and Costa Rica for 45 years. The study abroad program can be attributed to the leadership of Carlos Fandal, Ph.D., former Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and professor of foreign languages.

In 1975, ULM partnered with Tulane University to offer the first study abroad trip for teacher education students to Mexico. Ruth Smith, Ph.D., professor and Director of the School of Humanities in the College of Arts, Education, and Sciences, led the first study abroad group of eight students to Mexico City.

Study abroad courses are now led by faculty, Smith, Mary Blanche Wortham, and Charles Holloway, Ph.D., in Yucatan, Mexico, and San Jose’, Costa Rica.

Through partnerships with ULM and the Centro de Idiomas del Sureste in Mexico and Instituto Profesional de Estudiantes Extranjeros in Costa Rica, the ULM Modern Languages department offers the only ULM faculty-led undergraduate study abroad program.

The trip changes between Costa Rica and Mexico each year, and students are immersed in the Spanish language and culture of each region during a two-week trip. Study abroad courses are offered to all students; not only Modern Language majors.

Students live with host families during their time abroad. Host families are registered and vetted through the partner institutions, and most families have been participating as hosts in Mexico and Costa Rica for years.

PHOTO: Participating in the ULM study abroad program in Mexico in summer 2019 were, from left, front row: director Charles Holloway, Ph.D., Skylar Orozco, Elizabeth Hancock, Savanna Gonzalez, Scarlett Lester and Carol Holloway; middle row: Shelby Cook, Amber Waterhouse, Emily Healy, Melanie Deal, Sadaf Helforoosh and Torianne Servais; and back row: Bonnie Hemphill, Ashtin Houghton, Luke Vaughn, Jessica Marvin and Colby Glatter.
ULM photo

“The students develop very close relationships with their host families. We had a host family from Costa Rica come visit their student, and many of them stay in touch through social media,” stated Smith. 

Students go through a rigorous process to attend the study abroad trips. First an application with a letter of intent is submitted, then students attend numerous orientation sessions to prepare.

“Our orientation begins a year before in order to start preparing the students,” said Wortham, leader of the Costa Rica trip and Spanish instructor.

Orientation sessions address essential Spanish skills, culture shock discussions, and logistics of the trip. Preparation is critical and faculty leaders. 

“When I lead the orientations for my trip, I always open the session with ‘this is a study abroad experience,’” stated Smith, “Students need to understand this is not a tour. The purpose is to study and to improve their Spanish.”

In summer 2019, Holloway, and students attending the Mexico study abroad were honored by the host school, Centro de Idiomas del Sureste, with a tree planted on the campus symbolizing the 45 years of friendship between ULM and CIS.

“We have built a relationship with these institutions over the years, and I think they truly appreciate the kinds of students we bring abroad,” stated Holloway, professor of World Languages and leader of the Mexico study abroad program.

For some ULM students, attending the study abroad trip is the first time they have left the country or even the state of Louisiana. Students find creative ways to fund their education abroad from selling raffle tickets to crowd funding websites. The Mexico and Costa Rica study abroad programs are the highlight of students’ academic careers.

“I think back about all the trips we’ve done, about these students and how well they did and how well they represented the university, themselves, and the country,” said Smith.