Two weeks, two cultures, 15 Cal State Fullerton students’ lives changed – Orange County Register

Over posole, ceviche and handfuls of tortilla chips, parents of Cal State Fullerton students chatted in Spanish with one another, too anxious to quite enjoy the moment.

The potluck dinner in May brought them together so Julián Jefferies, assistant professor of literacy and reading education, could allay their fears. Their children were about to embark on a 3,300-mile trip – for some the first time they had been out of California or on an airplane.

A few weeks later, those students were sitting, blindfolded, around a bonfire at 4:30 a.m. on a small island in Puerto Rico as the sun rose and a handful of wild horses walked toward them along the beach.

Wild horses walk along the beach just after sunrise on Vieques, Puerto Rico, after the students finished a professional development exercise. (Photo courtesy of Alicia Afshar)

Their parents could hardly have imagined.

“I warned the parents and the students they were going to come back and they were going to change,” said Miguel Martinez, college career specialist for the College of Education, who accompanied the students, all the first in their families to attend college.

The 15 students returned home with new inspiration, motivation and career goals. Some want to change their career focus; others had a new interest in applying to graduate school. And with the exception of one visit to the hospital, all went smoothly.

The two-week trip by the Literacy Education for Social Change class has become an annual tradition for Jefferies, a strong believer in the power of experiential learning – getting out of the classroom to learn by doing. He took the class to Vieques, an impoverished, rural island where the U.S. Navy conducted bombing and other military exercises for 60 years.

Julián Jefferies, professor at Cal State Fullerton and coordinator of the Puerto Rico International Education Program, shows students the archive at the Museo Fuerte Conde de Mirasol, where students volunteered. (Photo courtesy of Alicia Afshar)

The class members helped establish a community farm, cleaned archives, worked at a radio station and conducted surveys of island residents. Their experience also included professional and personal development, highlighted by a short lecture by Martinez calling the students fakes.

“That was one of the highlights of the trip, when Miguel called them fakes,” said Jefferies.

But that’s putting the cart before the wild horses.

Before the class set foot in Puerto Rico, the students had to…

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