Agustin Lara, a bilingual education doctoral student in the Department of Educational Psychology, was one of 14 educators nationwide who were selected to participate in the Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad in South Africa, a five-week study abroad experience that is hosted by the Africa Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

The program increases linguistic and cultural competency among U.S. secondary and post-secondary school educators and administrators involved in African Area Studies. Program coordinators seek to enhance the quality and relevance of African area studies instructional material for middle, high and post-secondary schools. Participants assemble knowledge to use in creating instructional meaningful lesson plans for dissemination nation and worldwide through lecture seminars, discussions, and site visits. In addition, participants receive three hours daily of Zulu instruction at the University of Zululand at KwaDlangezwa in KwaZulu-Natal.

Lara believes that he will be able to apply that experience to his fifth grade classroom in the Bryan Independent School District, where he has been a bilingual educator for 18 years. For him, the trip will be just as much of a personal growth opportunity as it will be a chance for him to get one step closer to creating what he calls a “global classroom.”

“As an educator, I will be able to provide my students with first-hand knowledge of a culture that is vastly different than their own,” said Lara.

“Students at my school have very limited opportunities to be exposed to international experiences outside the school. Although we work in one of the district’s poorest schools – and in spite of all the adversities and disadvantages our students have – our school is one of the highest performing school in the district. Study abroad experiences like these will help us to keep doing that for years to come.”

Lara has gained a reputation among peers as somebody who constantly strives to bring cultural awareness to his community. As a result, he often receives requests to visit schools, provide dance workshops and conduct cultural presentations for multicultural awareness programs.

He is also the director and founder of Ballet Folklórico Los Altos de Jalisco, a group of 70 underprivileged students from Bryan, Texas. Through dance, the students learn about international cultures in a safe, fun and positive environment. They perform an average of 35 times per year at local churches, schools, nursing homes and community events.

On his overseas trip, he looks forward to learning as much as he can about the history behind traditional South African dances and music so that he can eventually bring that knowledge back to his youth dance group.

“My ultimate goal is to provide more avenues for success for my students and ballet group members,” he said. “Students will begin to understand the importance of our global community and begin to think on a higher level, rather than viewing impacts only on a local scale.”