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Students engage in a Spanish community through storytelling


Dr. Anna Witte leads the dynamic Spanish Children’s Literature: Creative Reading, Writing and Storytelling study abroad program at the UW Leon Center in northwestern Spain. The Center is housed in the 16th century tower of El Palacio del Conde Luna, a gothic palace that was formerly the seat of the Kingdom of Leon and today hosts a museum and performance space. Its location in and strong connection to the Leon community makes the center an ideal place for Dr. Witte’s program, which engages UW undergraduates in local culture and life through homestays, school visits and teaching opportunities, as well as live performance.  In the classroom, students explore the craft of storytelling through a survey of Spanish children’s literature course, pupeteering workshop, and several group projects.

Working with puppets
Working with puppets Photo: Matthew London

“There’s nothing like learning about how children grow up, how they relate to adults and other kids, to learn about another culture,” says Dr. Witte.  Her program provides many opportunities for cultural exploration through the lenses of child development, teaching, and storytelling.  Much of her students’ time is spent engaging hands-on in local schools and in the Leon community.  Students visit a local public and private school, first observing and then returning several weeks later to give lessons in English and Spanish.  The lessons are great opportunities for the UW students to put their new teaching through storytelling skills in action.  “Schools in Leon are basically bi-lingual,” explains Dr. Witte, and local educators are excited for American students to participate in their classrooms.

Performing for an audience - with wolf ears
Performing for an audience – with wolf ears Photo: Matthew London

The program culminates with a public storytelling event at the Leon Center, organized and performed by the program students.  The free event is publicized by the Leon Mayor’s office, and tickets sell out on the first day!  This spring, UW students performed a “story salad”, mixing together several familiar stories, a song, and a puppet show for the audience of 30 youngsters.  Because the event’s theme was “The Wolf”, one group even made wolf ears for every child in the audience!

Celebrating the performance
Celebrating the performance Photo: Matthew London

“This was the best experience of my 30-year teaching career,” says Dr. Witte. “The program showed students that being in the classroom is a lot of work, but they ended up wanting more interaction with the children!  I look forward to building even closer relationships with schools in Leon.”  These partnerships will no doubt benefit children in Leon as well as UW study abroad students.

Dr. Witte watches the perfomance
Dr. Witte watches the perfomance Photo: Matthew London

Provost’s Grant enhances Zambia study abroad program

Learn more about funding for faculty and programs! Grant applications are due April 11.

A Provost’s Grant from the Office of Global Affairs will further enrich an exciting UW study abroad program to Zambia in summer 2013.

Developed and led by Dr. Leslie Ashbaugh, Director of UW Bothell’s Center for University Studies and Programs, the month-long interdisciplinary program began in 2010 and introduces students to the socio-economic, political and health challenges faced by Zambians 45 years after the end of British colonial rule. While in Zambia, undergraduates from all three UW campuses retrace the steps of Dr. Ashbaugh’s own previous research on urban-to-rural migration pathways and outcomes. Along the way, they gain exposure to the complex problems facing individuals and institutions in a country where the government and the international donor community struggle to meet citizens’ basic needs.

Traveling by foot
Traveling by foot Photo: Rabeka Anne Randall

Program activities include collaborating with University of Zambia students promoting healthy practices on their campus, observing at health clinics and children’s centers, conducting a health education workshop, and spending 10 days in Luangwa National Park, working in local clinics by day and viewing game by dusk.  “We’re on the go from 7am to 7pm every day”, says Dr. Ashbaugh. The program’s packed schedule is designed to provide many opportunities for cultural exchange with Zambian students, professionals and local residents.

The Provost’s Grant has allowed Dr. Ashbaugh to add a completely new field experience to this summer’s program. With grant support, the group will embark on a five-hour journey, by bus and then on foot, to visit a rural village and volunteer-based goat farm where HIV positive individuals raise goats for milk and pasteurize goat milk for consumption by babies. Goat’s milk is a better substitute for breast milk than cow’s milk, so the enterprise provides community members with a livelihood, a safe and healthy infant feeding solution for HIV positive mothers, and a chance to overcome the stigma of HIV infection. Dr. Ashbaugh sees the visit to this village as a chance to witness best practices in development work, but also as an opportunity for students to experience and learn from the strength of Zambian communities and the generosity, kindness, and family-orientation of the local people.

Hearing local stories
Hearing local stories Photo: Misty Provenzano

With the support of the Office of Global Affairs, Dr. Ashbaugh’s study abroad program allows students to engage in meaningful international field work, learn first-hand about the challenges faced by members of another culture in an increasingly globalized world, and test career interests in global health and development. Just as importantly, she says, students gain humility and “recognition that [Americans] have much to learn from Zambians. I’ve done my job if students leave for Zambia thinking they have some answers, and then return home humbled and able to recognize the complexity of issues related to development.”

-Sara Stubbs