Study abroad trip to El Salvador approved by university

A map of El Salvador highlighting San Miguel, the department of El Salvador the Universidad Gerardo Barrios is located in.

In order to address the decline in teachers certified to teach students learning English as a second language, SIUE has recently approved the Lane Exchange program with the Universidad Gerardo Barrios in El Salvador amid safety concerns.

The exchange program allows students to partner with teachers from the Universidad Gerardo Barrios and collaborate with them to teach students English. The 10 students selected for the trip will receive between three and six credit hours of English Second Language and English Language Learners coursework and 100 practicum hours.

Due to the current climate in El Salvador, the administration has taken action to ensure safety precautions are put in order before the trip. 

According to Barbara O’Donnell, a professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning, the trip has been upgraded to a level two travel advisory which requires increased caution. The university has been working closely with the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador. 

One of the main precautions is access to the city at night.

“There’s security [at the hotel] — you buzz in and buzz out. We’ll all be staying there,” O’Donnell said. “Just for our safety, if we go out at night, we go in UGB vans and we’re accompanied everywhere.”

According to O’Donnell, the exchange program will help develop a relationship between the universities.

“It’s important that we go because it will start this partnership,” O’Donnell said. “This is an [Excellence in Undergraduate Education] grant. Whoever goes down has a small group of companions that are their students. You become close with three or four students and one of those students comes here. They’re going to be here the whole month of September. They’re going to be seeing our campus and going out to schools in this area and working with ESL/ELL students.”

The students selected for the trip will be staying in a local hotel and will be commuting between the hotel and the university according to O’Donnell. 

“There are 14,000 students on this campus,” O’Donnell said. “This a good-sized university for El Salvador. They have so much fun. They have a recycling initiative and many cultural events for students to participate in.”

Among the applicants who have already been selected, junior elementary education major Karlee Stapf, of Hampton, Illinois, looks forward to gaining the experiences in El Salvador.

“After college, I plan on teaching at a school-of-need and will most likely have ELL students in my classroom,” Stapf said. “I want to be better prepared and more understanding of where they are coming from and how to adjust to their specific needs. This experience will help me gain an indispensable set of knowledge and skills that I could not learn anywhere else.”

While some students cannot attend, there are others who see the value in the exchange program and in the Spanish language. 

Junior biochemistry major Mara Keller, of Troy, Illinois, is passionate about reducing language barriers in her future job. 

“I am pursuing knowledge in the Spanish language and Hispanic culture in addition to my pursuit of medicine because I want to be a doctor that can communicate clearly and compassionately with all of my patients,” Keller said. “I want to be able to encourage, comfort and communicate clearly with all of my patients despite cultural and linguistic differences.”

The university and O’Donnell are currently working through the logistics of another grant application which will benefit STEM students at SIUE and UGB.

To learn more about or apply to the study abroad trip, visit 

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