UWEC students travel to Puerto Rico for immersion experience

10 students volunteered over winter break

Liz Curtin

More stories from Liz Curtin


Photo by Noucee Thao

Students on the trip kayaking while in Puerto Rico.

This year, 10 students were a part of the Puerto Rico immersion experience at UW-Eau Claire from Jan. 6-15. This is the second year the program has occurred. 

The 10 students were also accompanied by two student leaders, Noucee Thao and Tyler Fuerlinger, and led by Katy Rand, senior coordinator of student leadership, and Cheryl Ana Jiménez Frei, a history professor. 

The trip consisted of 10 days of volunteering in Luquillo, Puerto Rico where the students stayed in a home by the water. 

To make this trip possible, UW-Eau Claire works with Community Collaborations International, an organization that plans out most aspects of the Puerto Rico immersion experience and provides the students with a host in the country. 

Rand said students were able to build and maintain trails, help out at Paradise Rescue, help a victim from Hurricane Maria and participate in ecotourism projects as a part of their volunteering. 

“We spend each day doing about seven to eight hours of volunteer work and then we have the nights or afternoons free,” Rand said. 

According to Rand, the host’s aunt made food for them during the trip so students could have authentic dishes.

Rand said they would be up at 8 a.m. but in bed by 11 p.m. During the day, students volunteered and during the evening they would head back to their home base and socialize with each other. 

During the last trip, some students adopted dogs from the shelter they volunteered at. This year was no different, with one student, Kelson Fox, a fifth-year Spanish student with a biology minor, adopting a cat. 

Fox said that his new cat, Cachi, was often chased by dogs at the shelter and didn’t have the instincts to understand why. Fox has brought Cachi home with him to meet his other cat, Loki. 

Thao a fifth-year psychology student and student leader on the trip, was also a student leader on the previous trip. 

Thao said she felt it was her duty as a student leader to guide and connect with the students which is one of the reasons why she enjoyed the experience so much. 

“It made me feel more connected to people in a different way than I would here,” Thao said. 

Both Fox and Thao said the group from the trip still makes an effort to meet up even though the experience is over. 

To go on the trip, students must first fill out a form and go through an application process. 

“We really look for students who are ready to be open for the experience,” Rand said. “They’re gonna ask good questions, they’re gonna be curious, they’re going to think critically about what they see and what they hear and what they experience.” 

Only 10 students are accepted and only pay $350 to go on the trip. 

“You kind of have to be there in order to fully understand what the program is about,” Thao said. 

Curtin can be reached at [email protected].