Blugolds return from Latin America with new appreciation of culture and furry friends

UW-Eau Claire students participate in service-focused immersion in Puerto Rico and return with rescue dogs

Claire Schoenemann

More stories from Claire Schoenemann


Blugolds Maddie Eggert (left) and Eddie Flottemesch (right) pose with Reggie and Jack as they return home from Puerto Rico.

UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff traveled to Puerto Rico over the winter break to participate in a 10-day, service-focused immersion experience. When the 12 students and two faculty members arrived at their campsite, there were two stray dogs waiting for them. 

Among the students was Maddie Eggert, a fourth-year sociology student. Eggert said that on the first day, the dogs were at their campsite when they arrived. At first, the pair of dogs were standoffish. 

Soon enough, Eggert said that the pair, now named Jack and Reggie, became the mascots of their immersion program. The group would go to sleep and wake up with the dogs outside of their doors at the volunteer campsite. 

“They came up to us, and as soon as they bonded to us, we instantly knew that we couldn’t leave them there,” Eggert said. 

Fourth-year management-entrepreneurship student Eddie Flottemesch was among students who accompanied the dogs on the way home. 

Flottemesch said that once the dogs became curious and started following them around, they were able to pick them up, feed them, and try to clean them up a bit. 

Throughout the immersion program, students spent most of their time volunteering in the small Puerto Rican community of Luquillo. 

Eggert said that during their time in Luquillo, they helped to clean trails in El Yunque National Forest, cleaned up beaches, repainted a school, assisted locals with home repairs and volunteered at the local dog shelter, called Paradise Rescue

Flottemesch said they took the two dogs to the local shelter, and that with the help of Paradise Rescue’s “angel adoption program,” and a GoFundMe set up by the trip co-leaders, they were able to bring the dogs back to Eau Claire. 

Aside from being able to bring the rescue dogs home, Flottemesch said that the immersion experience allowed him to gain both teamwork and leadership skills by working with the entire group to get service projects completed. 

Dr. Jeff DeGrave, intercultural immersions coordinator and senior lecturer in geography and anthropology at UW-Eau Claire, said that Puerto Rico is an epicenter that demonstrates how Latin America is part of the US, and the US is part of Latin America. 

“It’s a great place to really learn the history of US colonialism and this interesting mix and blend of Latin America with the United States,” DeGrave said. 

According to DeGrave, the 2022 winter break immersion was the first service-focused immersion to travel to Puerto Rico, and the faculty co-leaders, Cheryl Jimenez-Frey and Katy Rand plan to return to Puerto Rico next Winterim. 

DeGrave said it is important to recognize that you don’t have to leave the country to have a transformative intercultural experience. 

“Immersion programs are so vital for many folks to see that the world, and even their own country, is much bigger with a greater variety of cultures, perspectives and understandings of how life is,” DeGrave said. 

Eggert said that there is so much in the world that can connect people, and that she thinks if you have the opportunity to participate in an immersion experience, you absolutely should. 

According to Eggert, even aside from the added bonus of being able to bring home rescue dogs, she learned so much about herself, grew, and met amazing people throughout her immersion experience. 

Eggert and Flottemesch both added that since returning, Jack and Reggie were fostered by Katy Rand, one of the program co-leaders. They are scheduled to be permanently adopted by a local family in the next two weeks. 

UW-Eau Claire has several immersion experiences, which take place in the winter, spring and summer. 

DeGrave said they are still looking for students to participate in Winterim trips next year to India, Guatemala and hopefully more. 

According to the immersions webpage, “every full-time tuition-paying undergraduate UW-Eau Claire student automatically receives Blugold Funding support to participate in one international, domestic and research-based Immersion experience.” 

You can find out more about future domestic immersion programs on their webpage. 

Schoenemann can be reached at [email protected]