Cross-cultural learning changes students and instructor

Photo of Ocie Kilgus

Ocie Kilgus

Nicolet Area Technical College

English and Spanish Instructor

For 14 years Ocie Kilgus, Nicolet College Spanish and English instructor, has had the privilege of taking students to Latin America and seeing their lives changed. The experience has changed her life too.

"This experience changes the way [the students] look at themselves and the world," Kilgus explains. "They see people in abject poverty who are kind and open hearted and they see the basic values of the human condition."

As for the effect on her, Kilgus says she has become a more compassionate and generous person because of her relationships with Guatemalan friends and colleagues. "I prefer to serve rather than be served," she states. "Often I try to measure/understand a situation via the perspective of Hispanic culture. If I could, I’d swap my “American-ness” for just an ounce of the best of the Hispanic culture!"

Kilgus teaches Spanish I, II, III and IV as well as English Composition and Contemporary World Literature. Originally from Pennsylvania, she taught at Lycoming College in Pennsylvania and McPherson College in Kansas before coming to Nicolet four years ago.

At McPherson Kilgus researched student programs in Latin America and found Casa Xelajú in Quetzaltenango, second largest city in Guatemala.

After 10 years of leading students through this program, Kilgus joined the Nicolet faculty and brought the study abroad opportunity with her. She takes students to Guatemala during the winter break. They immerse themselves in Guatemalan culture and the Spanish language by living with local host families and attending Spanish language classes in the morning, and cultural events and service learning activities in the afternoon.

Some students who are already fluent in Spanish take a three-credit service learning class. These students volunteer with the Chico Mendes Reforestation Project in the largely deforested Guatemalan Western Highland Mountains. Activities include collecting and planting seeds, mixing soil, tilling the ground or other reforestation-related efforts.

Elizabeth Fredrickson, who took three Spanish classes with Kilgus and went to Guatemala with her twice, describes Kilgus as a very effective instructor. "She has influenced me by encouraging me to see more of the world," Fredrickson commented. "She also helped me to understand and appreciate other cultures."

Fredrickson also said Kilgus goes the extra mile for her students. She believes in them and encourages them to fulfill their future goals.

Ocie Kilgus is one of the many Wisconsin Technical College System instructors who influences students both inside and outside of the classroom.