Bridging Cultural Barriers with Educational Technology

These sisters were abused as babies, but Hope of Life International rescued them. They are now healthy, thriving, and attending school.

I recently got back from Zacapa, Guatemala, where I had the opportunity to train Hope of Life International teachers on our CompassLearning Odyssey software. Meeting the educators at this incredible organization provided me with a new perspective  for education and educators. While drastically different than any other teaching experience I’ve ever had, the familiarity and similarities in the why we do what we do was evident.  As we talked, Wallace (the video director at Compass Learning), Samantha (my daughter), and I concluded that we have never seen a group care so much about each other as we saw in  many of the 400 employees at Hope of Life.  The founder of the organization, Carlos Vargas, and his family seem to know and trust everyone personally with the lives of those they impact. Those children at Hope of Life are not a number or a dollar value, they are the important story behind the entire organization.

Our Mission: Training Hope of Life Teachers on Odyssey

The purpose of our trip was to train teachers on the CompassLearning Odyssey program, so they could use our K-12 online curriculum in their classrooms. Our training schedule took us from 8AM to 5:30PM each day.  It did make for a long day; however, their organized coffee breaks were helpful, thoughtful, and totally  new for me.  These breaks were brief and informal; they served us coffee, fresh limeade,  and homemade Guatemalan pastries – all of which made me realize an obvious difference in culture: We (as Americans) always seem to be in a rush. But in Guatemala, it seems the sanity of the person is considered more.

Different Expectations

I’m pretty sure we provided the teachers at Hope of Life with their first professional development session this year, possibly ever.  Teacher PD is unheard of at this school. It’s available in Guatemala, but I believe educators have to seek that on their own.  It didn’t seem like they expected the handouts, instructions, pens, pencils, candy, etc.  Again, our teachers here expect certain things that didn’t seem primordial at this session.  The respect that the Guatemalan people have for each other, and for us as strangers, is sincerely something I personally took away with me and hope to get better at.  Everyone matters and judgment is not passed.

Overcoming Obstacles

I could certainly see that there were things in our American product that would make for obstacles in Guatemala; but, each was addressed and cleared up as they arose. For example, our money activities couldn’t reflect their Quetzales (Guatemalan money).  Frequently, I heard the question: “Is this available in Spanish?”  “This” referring to all and anything I would share. Many were intimidated by the English (which was natural), so I delivered each day in full Spanish mode except when I had to mention something within the product like “Odyssey”, “Test Builder”, etc.  But even through the language barrier, the teachers at Hope of Life were engaged and ready to embrace our online learning solution. They were able to see the big picture, the value of developing 21st century skills for themselves, their students, and their community.

Guatemalan Mission, Accomplished

As a team, we accomplished what we promised to the teachers of Hope of Life, and I can confidently say that the experience was amazing.  We made friends in teachers, drivers, security, cooks, Carlos, and his children.  The mother of one of the teachers offered her home to us whenever we wish to go back.  We even received a wedding invite for June 2nd!  We were there for a few short days and we understand that quantity of time is not everything – it was quality of time that made for a successful trip!  And if there is one lesson I learned on our goodwill mission trip to Guatemala, it surely is that we have so much, and sometimes we take it for granted.

We know there are hundreds of thousands of American teachers across the nation who have traveled far and wide to reach international students. What have you learned in terms of bridging cultural gaps? Share your stories with us!

Be first to comment

Leave a Comment