Ziegler has impact on students, staff at rural college in Bolivia

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Shelly Birkelo
Tuesday, March 25, 2014

CARMEN PAMPA, BOLIVIA--In a tiny village more than 4,290 miles away from home, Ina Ziegler is making a difference in the lives of rural Bolivian youth.

What she has taught them as an English teacher at Unidad Academica Campesina-Carmen Pampa "will help them be able to get higher-paying jobs and hopefully jobs they're really excited about that align with their interests," Ziegler said during a telephone interview.

The 2005 Milton High School graduate provides higher education and leadership at the college, where she serves as volunteer interim director of the language department.

Located in one of the poorest areas of South America, the college is recognized by the United Nations and the Bolivian government as an award-winning model for the eradication of poverty. It generates social and economic change through community-centered education, research and extension projects.

The school's 650 students, ages 17 to 25, are taught by a staff of fewer than 60 teachers. Ziegler, 27, manages a team of English teachers and teaches English, which is a required course for students studying in the five academic areas--veterinary science, agronomy, education, nursing and tourism.

Some of the college's teachers have been volunteers with good intentions and positive energy but little professional teaching experience because there is no money for salaries, Ziegler said.

That's why she provided them training "to make the education the students are learning more impactful," she said.

Ziegler is the daughter of John and Judy Ziegler, Janesville. She learned about the exchange program for professionals after meeting a student from Unidad Academica while working on her master's degree in second languages and cultures education at the University of Minnesota.

"I had never been to South American but wanted to, and I speak Spanish. So this seemed like a good opportunity to use my teaching skills," she said.

Ziegler arrived in Bolivia in June.

The small community where the college is located is home to about 40 families with little public crime or violence. She described it's climate as “wonderful” with temperatures always between 60 and 80 degrees. Ziegler lives in a house with electricity and running water on the college campus.

"I live in the mountains, so transportation can be a little bit difficult if its rainy or stormy because they're just dirt roads. We walk almost everywhere," she said.

When Ziegler returns home in May, she will resume teaching English as a second language in Minnesota.

She said the yearlong experience abroad has given her a better perspective about those of her students who have come from other countries and are adjusting to life in the United States.

"Teaching at the university has been a good experience, and it's made me a better professional," she said.

Over the course of her year in Bolivia, Ziegler taught about 20 students, who pay $250 a semester to attend Unidad Academica.

"Most universities are in cities and also very expensive that young people from rural, poor families lack access to,” she said.

Many students who attend Unidad Academica will return to their villages and use their skills to improve their communities, Ziegler said.

As director of English, she hopes the work she's done developing and writing guides will help staff understand English better and increase the quality of the program at the college.

Although Ziegler will miss the relationships and friendships she created with co-workers, students and their families, she said she can leave knowing "I'm leaving behind some structures that will continue to have an impact on the future of English instruction that will be better for the students at the college."

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