Students from Panama learning while exploring

Since arriving at Brenau in April, the first cohort of students in the university’s partnership with Panama’s Institute for the Development of Human Resources have been learning a new language — and not just in the classroom.

During their first few months in the U.S., the 16 Panamanian students have taken trips to places such as the World of Coca-Cola, Candytopia and Zoo Atlanta. They also went tubing and hiking in North Georgia, visited downtown Gainesville and joined Brenau faculty and staff for a summer picnic on campus. 

Jordan Anderson, director of international initiatives at Brenau, says the outings and activities are a way to familiarize the students with the area and the U.S. in general while also improving their English skills. She says the students also have classes five days a week, which is “very intense and has helped the students significantly.”

“It’s amazing how much work, energy and time they’ve put into learning a new language,” Anderson says.

The students have been able to experience some things they would not have seen in Panama. 

“I enjoyed going to the Atlanta zoo,” Gabriela Rojas says. “We got to see animals we haven’t seen before, like lions and pandas. We have zoos in Panama, but this zoo was massive.”

Since the students see each other every day, they have quickly formed bonds, learning a new language and exploring Georgia together.

“There were many differences between provinces in Panama that we didn’t know about until we got together,” student Ann Almengor says. “We’re from the same country, so now we can bring those differences together.”  

While on campus, students worked with Huy Chu, assistant professor of art and design, on ceramics and graphic design projects. Chu taught the students how to wedge, coil build, use detailing tools and glaze their ceramics projects. For the graphic design project, students brought in photos to make collages. 

“I had a great time working with the students from Panama,” Chu says. “It was fun getting to know their interests. Several students enjoy watching anime and listening to Ariana Grande and The Weeknd.”  

The students have also spent time with other members of the Brenau community, including President Anne Skleder and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Jim Eck. The students have tried karaoke, visited Lake Lanier, attended a pool party hosted by Skleder and had dinner at the home of Brenau trustee and alumna Jill Mansfield, BU ’15, who regularly hosts international students after befriending many during her time as a student at Brenau.

“President Skleder is amazing and a nice person,” Almengor says. “She tries to speak Spanish with us, and it’s comforting that she’s trying.”

Skleder says the Panamanian students continue to impress her.

“Our students from Panama are a joy and an inspiration,” Skleder says. “They have embraced learning a new culture and language during their short time in the United States. We are excited to have them here for the next five years and to see them graduate. I know each of them will impact the lives of our domestic students as well as students from other places across the globe. We want all of our students to graduate with global experiences, and these students will help us reach that goal.”

Student Duinny Pinzon says the people at Brenau are friendly and that it’s great to be able to speak freely. She also likes that Brenau empowers women.

“In Panama, men are more likely to get an education than women,” Pinzon says. “I like how well we connect with other women around us and how great it is to share with them. I’m thankful for the opportunity for international students to come here. People appreciate other cultures and are open-minded.” 

In the fall, students will participate in the International Friendship Program, which creates a support system for international students and promotes cultural understanding. Those in the program will communicate weekly with the students and meet in person at least once a month for activities that are meant to increase connections and understanding.

“Right now, they only have the perspective of what it’s like for an American college student, but with the International Friendship Program, they’re going to get the other aspects of what day-to-day life is like for Americans outside of college,” Anderson says. 

“It is essential for them to be able to meet people in the community or Brenau faculty and staff they wouldn’t normally interact with. They’ll get to see their homes and be invited along with things that we might think of as boring or not exciting, such as going to the grocery store. But for someone from another country, it’s a peek into what another person’s life is like, which is very interesting.”

The Brenau community will also continue to learn from the Panamanian students as more events and activities are held throughout the year.

“Brenau’s international partnerships not only strengthen our ability to provide world-class education to a growing international student population, but they also bring diverse experiences and cultures to our campus and community,” Skleder says. “It is truly a two-way learning experience.”

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