Global Learning Experiences

In the summer of 2017, Lisa Y.F. Parker faced a challenge – to recruit and teach a service-learning course in Costa Rica. Armed with a travel grant from the UT Ready for the World program, she met with the Costa Rica International Study Abroad team to collaborate on a redesign of the Spanish 491 course. 

“We wanted to focus on specific learning objectives such as a student’s personal growth, civic learning, cultural competency, academic application, and reflection,” says Parker, Spanish lecturer and assistant director of the Language and World Business program in the Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures.  

Another unique value Parker wanted to include in the proposed course was for students to be able to develop a preliminary thesis topic based on their service-learning experience.  

“My primary objective for this course is to enforce key concepts through empirical observation that demonstrates the students’ capacity for research and a general knowledge of the history, culture, and current events of the Hispanic country where they served in hopes of one day being able to return as future researchers,” Parker says.  

The original Spanish 491 course was part of the study abroad program in the Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures. Now, as the first study abroad service-learning course offered in the department, Parker hopes it will serve as a template for other language programs. 

“This is a great opportunity for our students to engage in research and outreach with a global perspective,” Parker says.

Laura Harmon
Major: Nursing and Hispanic Studies
Year: Senior
Hometown: Ripley, TN

Lauren Harmon“When Dr. Parker reached out to me about the Costa Rica program, she told me it would be a unique opportunity. I looked more into it and absolutely agreed. I decided to go because it would aid me in my ability to work and care for a diverse population in my future career as a nurse. My experience will make me a better nurse because it taught me the importance of the nurse/patient relationship. No matter what country you are from or what your background is, a nurse must have the ability to care for everyone. I also learned remarkable things about the language and culture. The experience was the highlight of my college career. I would not trade it for anything. It genuinely changed my life.”


Miranda Johnson

Major: Anthropology and Hispanic Studies
Year: Senior
Hometown: Harrisburg, NC

Miranda Johnson“In the spring of 2015, I studied abroad in Costa Rica and was looking for a way to go back when I received an email from Dr. Parker. The course gave me the final three credit hours I needed for a Spanish minor, which was my original intention for signing up for the class. It was so much more beneficial than I could have ever imagined that I ended up staying an extra year! One of the best experiences was working hands-on in the museum with artifacts from the Maya, Aztec, Olmec, and local tribes. I came home with professional connections and an idea for a research project, which turned into a Fulbright application. I am currently a semi-finalist. I would not trade my experience for anything!”

Kishen Patel

Major: Chemical Engineering and Hispanic Studies
Year: Junior
Hometown: Cookeville, TN

Kishen Patel“I have always had an interest in volunteering when and where I could, so going to Costa Rica was right in line with my interests. Dr. Parker also convinced me it would really improve my Spanish speaking abilities. She was right! I got lost on the way to the conservation park where I worked, but found my way by relying on my Spanish. My biggest take-away was the concept of pura vida, or pure life. In Costa Rica, the emphasis is on enjoying life, which is opposite of my college ideology of ‘just get through it.’ It opened my eyes to the importance of my own time and living life for me. The experience changed my life. I returned being more me than I had ever felt before.”

Learn more about the program and watch videos from each student’s experience.