Hello! ¡Hola! My name is Luke Hughes and I am from Lake Forest, Illinois, just north of Chicago.
In March of 2019, I embarked on a service-learning trip to Monte Cristi in the Dominican Republic with Outreach360. This trip included Spanish language learning as well as English teaching for local children. I was surprised by the friendships I built during the trip and excited to see a new part of the world. This first journey taught me so much about travel and how to make an impact. (And I’d like give a quick shout-out to my aunt Kathy, a former Spanish teacher at Elgin Academy who has visited OutReach360’s Nicaragua and Dominican Republic sites many times, and who first invited me to go with her. She set me on my international journey and I am grateful!)
Because my first service experience abroad was so incredible, when COVID-19 hit, I decided to register for OutReach360’s Virtual Impact Internship for the fall and winter/spring sessions. This program involves tutoring students abroad via Zoom, working in Spanish. Even though it's online, this internship has really taught me the value of service. It taught me how to be there for others. It taught me that even working through Zoom, I can still make a cross-cultural impact on myself, my students and everybody at Outreach360.
At first I was a little hesitant to do the internship, to be honest. Although I loved working with Outreach360 back in 2019, I was still nervous about interacting online with students I’d never met, whose native language was different from mine. And the thought of tutoring over Zoom, not in-person, just made me even more nervous! But I knew I wanted to pursue a virtual international internship because I wanted a program that would allow me to improve my Spanish skills while at the same time improving my teaching ability, all while COVID travel restrictions were in place. Still, I felt so anxious!
To prepare for the cross-cultural aspect of this internship, I did extensive research about the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua and tried to learn as much as I could. I researched the topography, food, religion, language and overall culture, aiming to fill my mind with as much information as I could before the internship started. But even though I did my best to prepare, in the days before it started, I still felt like I wasn’t totally ready. But, looking back, I don’t know why I was so nervous. I’m not a shy person. I love meeting new people. And in the end everything about this virtual internship was a thousand times better than I ever could have imagined!
At the beginning of the internship, I wasn’t sure what I would get out of it, but now I can see that this experience has taught me some of life’s great lessons. It showed me the importance of service and the enjoyment of making a difference. Seeing a smile on my students’ faces helped me see the joy in doing something for somebody else, and helped me understand that you can’t live life just worrying about yourself. I learned that not only can service make you a less selfish person, it can also help you engage with a whole new culture – the people, the country and the language. Thanks to this internship, I improved my Spanish skills while learning about the lives of the locals in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua – all online. I also learned that I enjoy combining my strong leadership & communication skills, my interest in other cultures and my passion for helping communities in need.
In my Spanish class, connecting with my co-teachers and the students was a great cross-cultural exercise, helping me learn so much about the Dominican Republican and Nicaragua, from their healthcare systems, to their sports, to their national holidays. Finding similarities between our cultures was even more exciting and brought me closer to my students.
Teaching Spanish and English to students for two hours a week for 12 weeks might not seem like much, but even this short time really had an impact on both the students and myself. I already knew a little bit about Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic from my first trip and my research, but I learned so much more just by connecting online. The students taught me so much more than I could even imagine.
The language barrier was a little difficult at first, but throughout the internship, it became less and less of an issue. I now feel much more comfortable teaching a group of students, speaking in Spanish, and getting to know new people.
Because this was a virtual internship, my workspace was in my home. I tried to keep the setup as simple as possible at home. All I had was my iPad, AirPods, iPhone and a water bottle. I kept a charger nearby, just in case. I kept my desk space clean and simple because I didn’t want any distractions while I was teaching, and I knew a tidy work area would keep me focused.
To prepare for my tutoring, I would review the work I’d be teaching that week through an app called Canvas, and sometimes I needed to prepare a few other materials (pens, pencils, paper) for a particular session. For clothing, I wore a simple sweatshirt and sweatpants 90% of the time, since it wasn’t an office environment and the organizers at Outreach360 recommended clothes that were casual, yet appropriate.
I didn’t really notice a drastic difference to how my Spanish-speaking students approached online learning. I would say that they were even a little bit more energetic online than the English-speaking kids I tutor in the United States through the same platform. I was worried that the language barrier would prevent us from getting work done, but it ended up being totally workable. The students were so extremely excited to learn, engage with us tutors and get to know their fellow students that we were able to overcome the distance and connect instantly. I did have to be a little more expressive with my face, voice and hand gestures to better communicate with my students online, but I didn’t mind at all.
My fall internship went amazing, and I’m glad to say that the spring internship is going amazing as well. As a matter of fact, I love working with Outreach360 so much that I signed up for their summer internship too! The summer internship is three weeks long, every weekday, for two hours a day. This will be a little more intensive than my current internship which is 12 weeks long, only once a week.
Thanks to the internship, I can talk about Dominican and Nicaraguan food, leisure activities, topography, health care, landmarks, and so much more. Would I recommend this internship to anybody else? Absolutely! Without hesitation! Even if you’ve never considered an international experience, are very shy or you think you have no interest in other cultures – no matter what, you will not regret doing this internship. It’s that simple! I am so grateful for the opportunity to do this internship, and I can’t wait to work with Outreach360 again in 2021.
I’m still in high school, but right now my dream is to major in international relations and then join the United States Foreign Service. In college, I would love to study abroad in a major European city like Paris because then I could easily visit countries like Italy and Germany on the weekends. I would love to work in the State Department long-term, serving abroad in as many places as I can, particularly in Western Europe and East Asia. My travel bucket list includes places like Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, Cairo and other destinations with rich cultural identities.
From his essay, it’s clear that Luke has already understood the value of cross-cultural travel and engagement online. Bravo! We commend him for his proactive attitude. It’s clear that he’s laying the foundation for a successful international career, as well as building strong virtual work skills. We encourage him to try new programs and regions of the world. To become a global worker, it's important to keep a mindset of openness and curiosity, always looking for new cultures and different ways to engage. During his summer internship, we recommend that Luke creates a cross-cultural journal, where he can reflect upon the cultural differences he notices, and the virtual work skills he finds most useful. Luke is already planning long-term study abroad during his time at university, but we also recommend maximizing this time abroad by adding an internship or short-term job placement. Or he might choose to take some time off before university and volunteer with an NGO in Asia or Africa, expanding his understanding of community engagement and support abroad. Luke could also consider pursuing an international graduate degree abroad, to increase his cross-cultural immersion. Good luck!
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- What Kinds of Programs Are Available? provides a brief outline of the various types of short- and long-term study abroad programs.