Expanding horizons for Central and South American students

Group of people posing for photo (Courtesy of Colombo Americano Cali)
The U.S. State Department's College Horizons Outreach Program teaches leadership skills to Latin American students, such as these 2014-2015 participants pictured in Cali, Colombia, November 22, 2014. (Courtesy of Colombo Americano Cali)

Miguel Romero Rosas teaches young people in Cali, Colombia, the technological and leadership skills they need to succeed.

The 23-year-old aspiring software engineer founded Cali Kids Lives Matter, which helps develop young leaders through science and technology projects. The program is an affiliate of Houston-based Kids Lives Matter. Cali students practice English while collaborating with counterparts in the United States.

Romero Rosas is a 2015 alumnus of the U.S. State Department’s College Horizons Outreach Program. He says the program improved his language and networking skills and encouraged him to pass along what he learned to others back home in Colombia.

“I would not be where I am today without the program,” said Romero Rosas, now working part time with a U.S.-based consulting firm. “It was a lifetime experience.”

Man working on laptop in classroom (Courtesy of Miguel Angel Romero Rosas)
Miguel Romero Rosas works on a project in a classroom in Colombia. (Courtesy of Miguel Angel Romero Rosas)

Now in its 15th year, College Horizons helps Afro-Latino and Indigenous students in Latin America develop into community leaders with a foundation of English language training that prepares them for new career opportunities. By increasing participants’ access to higher education, the program also addresses exclusion challenges and highlights the African descendant diaspora in the United States and Central and South American nations.

More than 3,000 students, selected based on their desire to contribute to their community, have completed the two-year program since 2006.

This year, 280 high school and college students from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Peru will participate. They will learn English language and leadership skills, participate in academic advising and networking opportunities, enjoy cultural events, and interact with student and civil society groups.

“You acquire skills that help you navigate life,” Alejandra Campos, a participant from La Paz who completed the program in 2010, told ShareAmerica. “It opened many doors for me.”

Campos, 30, moved to the United States in 2015 and now works for a utility company while also studying business at Fordham University in New York.

Man sitting on wall (Courtesy of Juan Jose Garrido Pozu)
Juan Jose Garrido Pozu at home in Lima, Peru, in 2014. (Courtesy of Juan Jose Garrido Pozu)

Juan Jose Garrido Pozu used the English skills he learned while in the College Horizons program to find a job teaching English in Lima, Peru, to pay for further education.

A College Horizons participant from 2007 to 2010, Garrido Pozu credits his friends and mentors in the program with helping him continue his studies after the deaths of his mother and brother.

He later became the College Horizons program’s first student to pursue an advanced degree at a U.S. university, a goal of the program. Now 32, Garrido Pozu is pursuing a Ph.D. in bilingualism and second language acquisition at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“CHOP [College Horizons Outreach Program] opened my eyes to the world,” he said.

Man speaking as woman examines patient's leg while other patients wait (Courtesy of Liz Zayat)
Abel Moreira, third from left, interprets for physical and occupational therapy students, faculty and patients in Babahoyo, Ecuador, in August 2019. (Courtesy of Liz Zayat)

Abel Moreira, of Durán, Ecuador, says he was hesitant to speak English before entering the College Horizons program. When he returned to Ecuador after graduating from the program in 2014, Moreira could speak English more confidently, and skipped four levels of college English classes.

He also returned home determined to help his community. The 24-year-old college student volunteers as a translator for Project Perfect World, which supports hospitalized children. He also helps his mother care for the elderly. After finishing a degree in business, Moreira plans to work helping members of Ecuador’s minority groups find health care and social services.

“It was a great experience that opens new doors for me every year,” he said of College Horizons. “I still keep in touch with people from the program. It was like a family.”