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Mount Royal says 'hola' to Mexican exchange program

One of Mount Royal University's oldest international exchange partnerships is also the most unique.

Since 1998, the Universidad de Guanajuato has welcomed Mount Royal support staff, administrators and faculty on an intensive, month-long Spanish immersion program.

Mount Royal Mexican exchange employees
From left to right: Mount Royal employees Cari Merkley (Participant 2010), Alice Swabey (Participant 2010), Sarah Rude, Peter Seto, Katrina Ramsey, Linda Strangward, Katelyn Powers, Myles Worth, Maryann Bredin and Gerry Cross learn more about the Mexican exchange program offered through the University.

Lorna Smith, director of International Education at Mount Royal, says she is particularly proud of this exchange agreement.

"It offers professional development opportunities for the entire Mount Royal community," Smith says. "We've had deans go on it, we've had departmental secretaries go on it, we've had faculty members go on it.

"Our other exchange programs are primarily for students, but this one is not open to them because its ultimate goal is to develop long-term partnerships between our universities and to look for potential collaboration and research projects," says Smith.

Founded in 1732, the Universidad de Guanajuato is renowned as a leader in the Mexican educational system and is located in a city designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Employee adventures

This year, a record number of Mount Royal faculty and staff will be embarking on the exchange - 10 in all - to study beginner, intermediate or advanced level Spanish. They are also encouraged to participate in workshops of arts and crafts from the Guanajuato region and Mexican folk dance.

Linda Strangward is one of those about to embark on the Guanajuato exchange. A Peer Tutor Coordinator in Student Learning Services, Linda has both professional and personal goals for the exchange.

"I hire a lot of tutors who are students from Mexico and Central and Southern America," Strangward says, adding that tutoring is a way for these students to earn some money and practice their English while they study at Mount Royal.

"I've always felt that, if they're going to work for me as tutors, I should learn to speak to them in their own language," she says.

"On a personal level, my husband and I travel to Mexico all the time. I do really well with the basic travelling kind of Spanish - booking rooms and ordering meals - but I want to be able to actually communicate with people in their own language.

"I think this exchange will give me a good foundation and a feeling of confidence to use my Spanish more."

Lorna Smith says the first group of Mount Royal participants will leave for Mexico in June. The second will leave in July, which is also when participants from the Universidad de Guanajuato will arrive at Mount Royal.

Creating a world of possibilities

"When we signed the general partnership agreement with the Universidad, my counterpart there said, 'Let's get something going that provides an opportunity not just for students and faculty, but for administrators and support staff,'" Smith remembers.

"We created a sub-agreement so six full-time faculty or staff from Guanajuato take part in our Summer English Immersion Program, and six full-time employees from Mount Royal take part in theirs, because the courses are very similar in focus and in cost."

(Because of an imbalance in past years when H1N1 and SARS prevented Mount Royal employees from travelling to Mexico, more than six Mount Royal employees are participating in the exchange this year.)

"We waive the fees at each other's institutions, and the goal is to help build Spanish language skills for our people and English language skills for their people," Smith says.

It's also an important part of Mount Royal's Internationalization Strategy.

"In order for Mount Royal to be graduating students who will be successful in the environment in which they will live and work, it's important for them to have an international perspective and, if possible, an international experience," Smith says.

"But in order to motivate the students, you need to have the faculty and staff who also have a chance to have the same experience and pass it on."

To learn more about the exchange program with the Universidad de Guanajuato, contact Dianne MacDonald, manager of International Projects in International Education at

- Nancy Cope, May 19, 2011