Southern Miss leads state in advancing Panama's bilingual initiative

Updated: Nov. 19, 2015 at 1:23 PM CST
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HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - This is a news release from the University of Southern Mississippi

The University of Southern Mississippi has partnered with the nation of Panama in a program initiated by its president, Juan Carlos Varela, that seeks to convert the country's public school system into a bilingual system with the goal of a bilingual nation.

In October Dr. Christopher Miles, chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Southern Miss, traveled with Felipe Kerschbaum of the English Language Institute to Washington D.C. to represent Southern Miss at a gathering of all universities in the United States participating in the initiative.

The Panamá Bilingüe event was held at American University and the Panamanian Embassy in Washington, D.C., to discuss the development and implementation of their respective programs. The conference consisted of discussions on the program's developments thus far, as well as future plans.

"In the last year, over 100 Panamanian teachers and students have come to Southern Miss. For most of them, it is the first time that they have been to the United States. So, the potential impact on their lives is very big," Miles said.

"They can learn English, make friends, immerse themselves in American culture and go back to their classrooms in Panamá with first-hand accounts of life in the United States. Plus, if they have a positive experience, the potential to return to Southern Miss is even greater," he added.

Miles said 28 Panamanian teachers are expected for the next eight-week intensive program, beginning in January 2016 at Southern Miss. The program is anticipated to last at least four more years. Aspects of the program developed at Southern Miss have become standard for other universities.

"Southern Miss currently has 24 Panamanian teachers studying at the English Language Institute," Kerschbaum said. "We couldn't be more excited to be a part of this partnership, and we're hoping that this will be an example to other countries hoping to become a part of the global economy."

Dr. Maureen Ryan, interim dean of the College of Arts and Letters, said the University's participation in the Panamá Bilingüe initiative introduces a new, vibrant community of students to Southern Miss and the English Language Institute.

"Our role in preparing these students to teach English in their home country is a demonstration of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures' strengths and reputation, and of the University's commitment to fostering a diverse learning environment for all students," Ryan said.

Panama is specifically interested in training ESL (English as Second Language) teachers in order to achieve bilingualism at the national level. Programs such as the 100,000 Strong in the Americas, implemented by the U.S. government back in 2013 in part to support study abroad for American students throughout the Western Hemisphere, will be used to monitor the Bilingüe program's progress.

For information about the Southern Miss Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, visit

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