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Pericles sabbatical supports tutoring in Mexico

A university librarian spent a week in Mexico last month tutoring students in English, and now that she is back on campus, Dianne Ford wants to start a program that takes Elon students there each spring to help their counterparts learn the language.

Dianne Ford spent a week helping students at Universidad Tecnologica de San Luis Potosi hone their English skills.

Ford joined other community volunteers on the trip, which was sponsored by the Burlington-Alamance Sister Cities Organization, a group whose mission is to “promote goodwill and better understanding” between the cultures of the United States and Mexico.

Her time away from her regular job was made possible by a Project Pericles service sabbatical.

Sister Cities had been recruiting volunteers for English tutors at Universidad Tecnologica de San Luis Potosi. For Ford, it was the perfect way to parlay her interest in Hispanic culture into a service opportunity that could be supported by Project Pericles.

In San Luis Potosi, located north of Mexico City on the high central plateau of the country, Ford found a vibrant arts community with beautiful streets and historic architecture. The people are friendly, she said, and the university’s hospitality was exceptional.

“I was amazed at what I didn’t know about Mexican culture,” she said. “In the United States, this is our picture of Mexico: Illegal immigrants, farm workers, and drug wars.”

The students at the university appreciated Ford’s own attempts to speak Spanish. The librarian had taken several Spanish courses through El Centro de Espanol at Elon, and though she says she is far from fluent, the effort showed Mexican students that it was OK to make mistakes.

Of course, there is another reason students at Universidad Tecnologica de San Luis Potosi must learn English: As part of their degree requirements, Ford said, students must make presentations in both their native tongue and in English.

Ford she hopes to expand the tutoring project next spring with help from dedicated Elon students. Nothing is set in stone, she said, though talks are now underway with the Kernodle Center for Service Learning to study the possibility.

“I like cultural diversity,” Ford said. “There certainly is a vocal segment of our population that doesn’t support our Latino community. Those of us who welcome them need to be equally vocal.” 

The Sister Cities group is hosting eight faculty members from Mexico in Burlington for three weeks in June.
Service sabbaticals are open to university employees with two or more years of service. They allow staff to spend up to one month away from their normal duties to work full time for a community organization yet still receive a regular paycheck.

Ford was one of three sabbatical recipients this spring. Marianne Janssen in the Department of Physical Therapy, and Brian Chandler, who works as an HVAC mechanic, also received funding through Project Pericles. 

Ford’s daughter, Emma Jones, and son-in-law Christopher Eyl, have also both done Pericles service projects while at Elon - Emma with the Women’s Resource Center and Christopher doing a cross-country bike ride to raise funds for Crossroads.

Eric Townsend,
5/20/2008 10:17 AM