From a cornfield in El Salvador to New York City: How learning English took me overseas

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By: Pedro Alexander Vasquez Jimenez – a Fulbright Faculty Development Program scholar from El Salvador and a Master’s degree candidate in Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language/ESL Language Instructor (TESOL) at Binghamton University.

”De lápiz y de papel no se vive.” This is a figurative expression that means “Schooling alone does not provide a way to make a living. If you don’t work, you don’t eat or live.” I grew up in a rural area and was reminded of this phrase over and over again when I was a child. My parents did not believe that education was valuable and didn’t want me to spend time studying as they didn’t see it as a path to earning a living. They often told me that I had to work in the cornfield, that I belonged to this place and to this profession just like other countryside boys in El Salvador. The cornfield where I was brought up is located in the rural area of Morazán, a city considered as one of the poorest areas of the country. Nevertheless, I developed a desire for education, so I persuaded my parents to send me to school in the morning while I promised them to work in the cornfield in the afternoon even if that meant intense days full of work and school.

In high school I became interested in English language and wanted to become an English teacher, but my family could not afford to send me to college. Close to my high school graduation, I applied for a scholarship offered by the Universidad de Oriente UNIVO and got accepted because of my academic performance. To attend the Universidad de Oriente UNIVO was quite exhausting especially because I had to take two buses every day to make it there. Not to mention that I had to get up around 4:00 am to be on time for my 7:00 am classes. Despite of all obstacles I faced in order to complete my bachelor’s degree in English Teaching (TESOL), I still persevered. I remember studying by candlelight every night because we did not have electricity in my house and only carried USD $2.00 dollars on me, which was just enough for the bus fare.

The Global UGRAD experience at Missouri State University (2011-2012)
The Global UGRAD experience at Missouri State University (2011-2012)


In 2011, I was awarded with a scholarship to participate in the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (Global UGRAD), an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State´s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. I attended Missouri State University for one academic year during my undergraduate studies. The experience to fully immerse myself in a completely different academic setting was extraordinary: I had classmates from different cultures, backgrounds, and languages. In September 2015, I was awarded an opportunity by the Government of Austria to participate in an International Civilian Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding Training Programme (IPT) at Stadtschlaining, Austria. This was a three-week long program that took place at The Austrian Study Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution (ASPR). At ASPR, I wanted to focus my studies on Human Rights because I believe that we can teach values and human rights to the youth through education.  In short, I was very excited to get admitted to the program and also to go to Europe. Later in 2016, I graduated cum laude from Universidad de Oriente UNIVO and officially became an English Instructor.

Since then, teaching has become my passion, which I enjoy and love every time I do it. Undoubtedly, I chose the right profession. After I graduated from Universidad de Oriente UNIVO , I was offered a full-time position as the head coordinator of the English Teaching degree program. I taught different levels of English courses, in addition to an honors level course on leadership and competitiveness as a volunteer. This particular course was part of the University honor program for students with a high GPA pursuing a variety of majors. At the same time, I was involved in community service teaching English language to kids of the community.

I believe everything is possible when you are an optimistic person. We find obstacles in the way, but they make us stronger and help us to look for different ways to approach them and achieve our goals. Taking risks as well as trying new things may be challenging for everybody but it is worthy, and I am an example of it. Stepping out of my comfort zone is something that I will never regret. The experience of pursuing academic studies abroad and being introduced to a new culture have been the most amazing journeys in my life. I remember as a child while I was working in the cornfield, I used to look at the sky and see the planes flying over me and I never thought that once in my life I would take one. Now, I am in New York pursuing a Masters of Arts degree in TESOL and what I know is that dreams come true if you dare to believe them; of which always makes me reminisce about one of my favorite quotes, “Don’t stop dreaming, don’t stop believing.”

More news about Pedro (in Spanish):   

[vc_row][vc_column][mk_mini_callout]Disclaimer: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.


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Fulbrighter Everardo Rivera is making university more accessible in El Salvador

Jose Everardo Rivera Bonilla (Ever, as called by family & friends) is a Fulbright scholar with a degree in Political Science – International Relations from New York University (NYU). Today Rivera Bonilla is Provost of Escuela Superior de Economia y Negocios (ESEN) in his home country of El Salvador. ESEN comes from a remarkable and decisive effort of the private sector that is engaged with improving the quality of higher education in El Salvador. This effort has been led since the beginning by Ricardo Poma, a Salvadoran visionary leading regional businessman. Therefore, Ever is contributing at ESEN towards providing a higher education to students regardless of income, religious beliefs, or political views.

Since he was ten years old, Fulbright Scholar Jose Everardo Rivera Bonilla was determined to find a way to serve his country of El Salvador. He contemplated the military (because of his grandpa) and he contemplated medicine (because of an uncle & a cousin). His priest, sensing Rivera Bonilla’s potential, even suggested the possibility of President. Eventually, he decided to study business and economics at Escuela Superior de Economia y Negocios (ESEN) with the hope of gaining valuable leadership skills.

Completing his studies at ESEN only intensified Rivera Bonilla’s hunger for learning. After graduation, he spent six months in Toronto to practice his English skills, and he later received a scholarship to study Applied Macroeconomics and Public Policy in Chile (at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile).

With two Masters’ degrees, it was no surprise when the Academic Director of ESEN (Daniel Wisecarver) called and offered Rivera Bonilla a full time position. At just twenty-six years old, he became a full time professor at El Salvador’s best business school. While teaching at ESEN, Rivera Bonilla decided to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship. After being granted the scholarship, Laspau helped match him to the Political Science – International Relations Program at New York University.

“Indeed, I feel a huge responsibility because of the opportunity that I was given. Thus, I want to give back and share my experiences with younger generations.”

“It was simply amazing and unforgettable what I felt on that day,” Rivera Bonilla explains when he thinks back to the morning he received news of his acceptance to the program. “I will always be, definitely, thankful to Fulbright and Laspau… I was given the chance to develop an international understanding through meeting people, lots of them, friends now, with whom I am still in touch.”

Rivera Bonilla makes a point to visit New York City at least once a year to say hello to these friends and to walk through the streets of a city so different from those of San Salvador.

“Indeed, I feel a huge responsibility because of the opportunity that I was given. Thus, I want to give back and share my experiences with younger generations.”

Today Rivera Bonilla holds the position of Provost at ESEN where he is fulfilling his childhood goal of serving his country by providing an education to young and ambitious Salvadorans regardless of income, religious beliefs, or political views. Rivera Bonilla and ESEN’s team have pushed to increase internship opportunities for his students and has strengthened the university’s job placement program. ESEN can boast that one hundred percent of its alumni receive job offers within six months of graduation.

As for the future? Always striving for further knowledge, Rivera Bonilla has the interest of learning and contributing in government and politics someday. Who knows? Maybe Rivera Bonilla will serve as El Salvador’s next president, as predicted by his catholic priest. But for now, Rivera Bonilla is very happy and thankful with the opportunity of learning from an amazing team and being in touch with younger generations of Salvadorans through his dynamic and challenging work at his beloved alma mater.