Visiting Fulbright Scholar Strengthens Albion-Costa Rica Ties


June 5, 2015By Jake Weber

Albion education professor Kyle Shanton and Susanna Murillo
Albion education professor Kyle Shanton and Susana Murillo.

Coming to Albion as a visiting scholar, Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica (UNA) professor Susana Murillo was prepared for interesting cultural experiences and was delighted by what she didn’t expect: to play in the College’s Jazz Ensemble all year: "We played at Cascarelli's, Goodrich Chapel and the Hillsdale-Albion Jazz Festival, and I don't think they expected to see their Fulbright scholar doing that.”

Murillo's year in Albion was an outgrowth of a sabbatical project done by education professor Kyle Shanton in spring 2012. Studying bilingual education instruction in Costa Rica, Shanton learned that the Fulbright Foundation also sponsored international scholars coming to the U.S., and he encouraged Murillo to apply.

"The main purpose of my Fulbright is to internationalize campus," said Murillo. "I'm trying to leave my mark in different ways, especially nurturing the relationship between Albion College and UNA."

The open-ended goal of "internationalization" allowed Murillo and Shanton to define it in different ways—and as it turns out, they found a lot of them. In fall 2014, Murillo and Shanton co-taught the Pedagogy of Humanities course for future language teachers.

"Susana coached our students and our cooperating teacher in the field to use the Duolingo (a language application for iPads and smartphones) and gave them supplementary materials for the teaching of Spanish," Shanton explained. "This was an invaluable opportunity for everyone."

Murillo did guest lectures for classes in the departments of Modern Languages and Cultures and International Studies as well as in the Center for International Education and Off-Campus Programs, discussing everything from grammar to economics, politics and cross-cultural communication. She and several music students even developed an exhibit for Albion's Kids 'N' Stuff children's museum.

For the Music Department, Murillo led a capstone seminar titled "Taste of Costa Rican Culture" using Costa Rican folklore, music and artists as a base from which to explore the consciousness of culture.

Students were thrilled to have Murillo surprise them with a traditional Costa Rican breakfast, but Murillo suspects even that day wasn't their favorite. "The day we played music by a Costa Rican composer, the class didn't want to leave," Murillo recalled. "They asked to stay longer because they really wanted to play more of his music. I was really happy to hear that," she said.

In the spring, Murillo addressed the same topic of cultural consciousness via a communication studies course. Far more than simply discussing issues of cultural sensitivity, the Albion students applied their knowledge through videoconferencing with English students at UNA.

"The students applied their understandings of culture and communication by scheduling five to seven Skype conversations and talking for what was supposed to be only 30 minutes, but which turned out to more often than not be an hour," Murillo noted. She sees the students' enthusiasm as a reflection of the growing relationship between Albion College and UNA. The students did not simply complete an academic project, she notes—they developed friendships through real-world practice of intercultural sensitivity and respect.

Murillo's visit is the seventh distinct exchange between Albion and UNA since Shanton's 2012 sabbatical. Along with studying how ESL teachers are educated and trained, Shanton focused on developing an Albion/UNA/Pará School relationship that would benefit all institutions (Pará is an elementary school in Costa Rica). UNA has hosted three practicum exchanges for Albion students, while Albion gave three UNA graduate students a distinctly memorable exchange during the polar vortex of February 2014.

"We hope to expand this relationship to include school-aged children and elementary-secondary teachers on both sides," Shanton said. "It's a wonderful shared vision, and because of the patience, talent and hard work by all involved, many remarkable things are already happening.”

"The year has gone, and I feel really happy with what I have accomplished and all the people I’ve met," said Murillo. "My admiration to the Education Department; they really do amazing projects. And I love the fact that they like to involve their students with the community and vice-versa, so that they can have the sense of how real life can be out there. I will never forget them."