Casey Parrish participated in the 2022 Study Abroad trip to Mexico.
A Conversation with Casey
Why did you choose to go on this program?
I chose to go on this trip for a few reasons. First, I have a deep desire for everyone to feel known, heard and included. For that to take place in classrooms, teachers should familiarize themselves with their students’ diverse cultures. Secondly, I know I will have ESL and ELL students in my classes throughout the years. Learning to teach them efficiently and effectively is a high priority of mine. Third, I have always loved Hispanic culture and I wanted to throw myself in to embrace it all.
Another reason I chose this study abroad trip is to put myself in the shoes of my future ESL and ELL students. I was in their position of not understanding what was taught or said. I recognized how hard it may be for those students. It made me think about what I can do to support each student and set them up for success. It allowed me to see the value of differentiation and its importance in my classroom. I also see how important it is to learn about the distinct cultures in my classes and celebrate and acknowledge each one in its beauty.
What surprised you the most about your experience?
I think the thing that surprised me the most is how much I could still relate and interact with the students even though we spoke different languages. The first day we worked at the school with the students, I was terrified that I would not be able to communicate with them since I didn't speak Spanish fluently. Thankfully, I had the help of a graduate student who was fluent in both English and Spanish, but honestly, after the first day or two I was able to do a lot of it on my own. The students greeted me with hugs and the biggest smiles. Sometimes, I could look at them and see their emotion even though they weren't able to convey it to me in English. I was surprised how connected I felt to them, especially by the end of the trip. We only visited their school for a few hours Monday through Friday, but I don't think I have cried as much as I did that Friday when we left them. So, it is safe to say that they have a huge piece of my heart and made me a better person and teacher. I was not expecting to feel that way when I left them and Mexico. I taught them, but they taught me more than they'll ever know.
What was your favorite part of your time overseas?
One highlight of this program was making new, lifelong friends with the other girls I went with. I appreciate the counseling and guidance from our professors, too. We stayed with the most amazing and gracious hosts in a beautiful place. The housing was very safe and secure, and I couldn't have asked for more. I love teaching and was able to do so with many students! There was a big language barrier between us, but honestly, I feel like it helped me grow so much. I still felt so connected to them through smiles, laughs, dancing and hugs. I pushed myself and I truly grew as a teacher and person. This experience exposed me to a culture that I have always admired. We were able to see the good, the bad, the heartbreaking and the celebrations. I loved trying all the amazing authentic food. Along with teaching students, we visited the Cañada de la Virgen pyramid, took a tour of beautiful San Miguel Allende and did some fun shopping there. We even experienced a gold mine and learned about the heartbreaking life of a miner. I can’t think of a better way to learn about and experience a culture than this program! This trip truly meant the world to me in so many ways.
How do you intend to use this experience in the future?
I took away so much from this trip! I intend to implement differentiation in my classroom. I know teachers always talk about that, but it goes beyond just having an alternate assignment for students who need additional help. This trip enabled me to see how important differentiation is for students on various levels, and students with language barriers, too.
This experience also helped me realize the importance of providing other instructional forms besides just verbal instruction. Most teachers primarily use verbal instruction in their classroom, but being in Mexico and not speaking the same language as the students, I had to get creative. I had to give handouts with written instructions, use pictures to describe what I wanted them to do, and use body and hand gestures along with giving verbal instructions. This also gives the students something to refer to while completing their assignments. I will also use my experience on this trip to highlight and appreciate the cultural backgrounds present in my classroom. Each culture has its beauty and deserves to be talked about and celebrated so that students don't feel lesser than any of their classmates just because they are different from one another.
What is your advice for students who want to study abroad and go on this program in the future?
My advice is to DO IT! I barely knew anything about it before I went, but I decided to get out of my comfort zone and jump into it with an open mind. It turned out to be the absolute best time of my life! New experiences, like leaving your native country for the first time to travel without family can be scary, but it’s so worth it. I pushed myself to take the opportunity and learned so much about a new culture and myself. Now, there are 30 kids in Mexico who have my heart! My other advice for a study abroad trip like this is to be flexible, open-minded, and ready to learn! Again, it can be hard and scary to step out of your comfort zone. Go into it head-on and be ready to embrace the beauty of a new culture and experience!