The University of Iowa

UI students find ways to continue their culture exchange in Seville, Spain

May 7th, 2020

UI student Derick Towar meets twice a week with 11-year-old Carlos Trujillo over WhatsApp video calls to chat, play games, and read books and articles on the internet

Earlier this year, study abroad students attending celebrated institutes all over the world, saw their programs cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, bringing an abrupt end to their cultural exchanges.

While this was certainly not the semester they imagined, two University of Iowa students have found a way to continue engaging with their host country by reaching out to help a community they discovered through their time abroad.

Upon returning home in March, UI students Derick Towar and Madelyn Jermier joined nearly 50 other CIEE Seville students continuing volunteer teaching of young Spaniards in their host community.

"Derrick and Madelyn are perfect examples of how University of Iowa students can bring the world to them.”

"Had I maintained the tunnel vision I had and refused to embrace the unpredictable, my intercultural experience could’ve ended right then and there,” said Derick Towar, a fourth-year UI human physiology and Spanish major. “But I made an attempt to navigate, rather than avoid, the uncertainty, and as a result, I have a new perspective, a new friend, and a newfound drive to do the most with the hand I’ve been dealt."


Derick Towar at the Plaza de Espana, Seville, Spain

After accepting an offer to teach remotely, Towar began meeting twice a week on WhatsApp with an 11-year-old student named Carlos. 

“I can always count on our calls to brighten up my day,” said Towar. “We’ve done all kinds of activities including reading the Chronicles of Narnia together, writing Mad Libs, and listening for new English vocabulary words in clips from some of his favorite Marvel movies. I decided to do these simple activities with him hoping to provide him with an escape from the monotony of traditional English class activities, and also that he might learn something. But I’ve realized that I’m learning a lot, too.”

“I have been so impressed with the resilience of the UI students who were abroad this spring. The grace with which they have navigated this difficult situation is truly remarkable.”

Madelyn Jermier, a second-year accounting and business analytics major from Decorah, Iowa, also continues to stay connected to Seville via a 12-year-old English learning student, Paloma. 

“We normally start out by talking about our day or weekend or doing a bit of show and tell,” said Jermier. “Paloma’s mother told me she was a very shy girl, and English was something she struggled with. I try to translate things she doesn’t understand from English to Spanish, and she always seems a bit relieved to hear my errors. I think this has been a great opportunity for me as well to realize it’s okay to not be perfect because no one else is either!”

Although their semesters were cut short, the time they were able to spend abroad wasn’t without its rewards.


Madelyn Jermier, a second-year accounting and business analytics major, studying in Spain on the CIEE Liberal Arts Seville program 

“My study abroad experience was so amazing because of all of the new people I met,” said Jermier. “For the two months that I lived in Seville, Spain, I lived with a host family. Listening and participating in my family’s Andalusian Spanish conversations (way faster and harder to understand than normal Spanish) was definitely intimidating at first. But by the end, they knew I could pick up on their jokes and stories. I still keep in touch with them and check in on how things are.”

“I have been so impressed with the resilience of the UI students who were abroad this spring,” said Emily Gruis senior study abroad advisor. “Students like Derick and Madelyn have taken that flexibility a step further by continuing to engage with their host communities in Spain. The grace with which they have navigated this difficult situation is truly remarkable.”

This recent pause in international travel has also inspired the Study Abroad office to seek new and unique opportunities in remote learning, now offering virtual international summer courses taught by faculty from around the world in subjects such as history, business, film, languages, political science, and sociology.

“Students can get a unique perspective in these topics by being taught by international faculty,” says Kristine Djerf, senior study abroad advisor. “We're encouraging all students to take advantage of this distinct opportunity to earn credit towards their major, minor, certificate, or general education requirements. Derrick and Madelyn are perfect examples of how University of Iowa students can bring the world to them.”

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