Bridging the Gap–U.S. to Latin America: A new program at Bonaventure

By Joseph Phelan, @Jphelan13

A new program connects St. Bonaventure University  students to college students in Latin America.

Bridging the Gap –U.S. to Latin America allows students to communicate with each other through video-chat and email.

Students Allie Perl and Paul Leonardo created the program this fall.

“This program is important for building relationships between countries because it builds a dialect and a more personal and dynamic understanding of our cultures,” said Leonardo.

The idea surfaced when Perl wanted to pen pal with students from Haiti, but that plan fell through.

Leonardo, however, mentored students in a state department program titled Students of the United States Institutes this summer.

Leonardo worked with Latin American students using English and Spanish.

“They felt that being here truly helped them learn English because of how much they had to actually practice it,” said Leonardo. “Towards the end most of the students wished they could continue to practice the English.”

Leonardo then remembered Perl’s initial idea to pen pal with Haitians, and, with the help of Perl, initiated Bridging the Gap—U.S. to Latin America.

Through hour-long video-chat sessions, students practice their English grammar and sentence structure. Students are also required to send pen pal letters to each other twice a week.

“The Latin Americans seem extremely excited about the prospects of enhancing their English,” said Perl. “Most of the students can speak a little bit of English.”

Leonardo understands how important communication is, especially between different languages.

“Language is a key component in communicating and we’re breaking the barrier and having both sides of the program learn respective languages and understand that this globalized market requires more from everyone,” said Leonardo.

The program, which is not endorsed by Bonaventure, also helps improve the knowledge of a different culture.

“The program has really enhanced my understanding of the culture of Latin America,” said Perl.

Perl said a majority of the students could speak English and Spanish.

Initially Bridging the Gap began with nine students from Colombia, but it has expanded to students in Venezuela and Ecuador, as well as Bonaventure students.

Perl said there are currently 26 pairs of students.

Leonardo spends much of his time working with the Spanish students who have a tough time speaking English.

One reason that this club formed was the possibility of developing future relations with students from other countries.

“Maybe we can change our attitude of one another just by simply having a conversation,” said Leonardo.

Perl encourages bilingual Bonaventure students to join Bridging the Gap as she reflects on her brief time with the organization.

“I’ve met some really great people through the program,” said Perl.


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