Beyond borders

Student’s international educational experiences prove to be his most valuable

More stories from Sami West



Taiveaho sits in front of a mural outside a revolutionary mural in Leon, Nicaragua in June.

Educational experiences irrevocably impact who one becomes. Emilio Taiveaho, junior English, critical studies and Latin American studies double major, knows this to be true.



Born in Quito, Ecuador, a place of little educational opportunity, Taiveaho faced a much different reality than most other UW-Eau Claire students. Taiveaho said studying at a private institution like the American School he attended for his first six years of school was virtually the only option for someone like him. Though he’s a Spanish native speaker, he began learning English at a young age.

“Although I have no personal connection to the United States, I knew more about America when I was ten years old than I did my own country,” Taiveaho said. “It’s like colonization, because you’re learning from a really young age that the U.S. is higher than Ecuador.”

Despite living thousands of miles away, his teachers were inevitably melding his mind to an altered reality.

“You’re never just learning practical things,” Taiveaho said. “You’re getting an ideology and you’re constructing your reality from what school you go to.”

A different world, one had to leave the country to someday become successful. This idea extended to Taiveaho’s decision to leave Ecuador.

Leaving behind his mother in their native country and his father in Finland, Taiveaho attended a boarding school in Winona, Minn. for what Ecuadorians consider high school — the last six years of school.

“I basically grew up in Winona; in American culture. But I still identify as Ecuadorian,” he said. “It makes you realize the arbitrary nature of national boundaries.”

When it came to college, it was clear to Taiveaho he should stay in the United States, or at the very least, he should not return to Ecuador.

“Any international degree is worth more than an Ecuadorian university degree, even if it’s free there,” Taiveaho said. “And I wanted to become someone and actually have a meaningful career.”

While attending Eau Claire, Emilio Taiveaho’s drive has impressed a number of his professors, one being Jose Alvergue, associate professor of English.

“I’ve known a lot of other faculty members who have also had Emilio, and we know when he’s bringing in new information in one class from a different class,” Alvergue said. “It reassures you that students are actually learning something.”

In response to looming budget cuts, that reassurance is becoming more and more important, Alvergue said.

“It’s been very difficult for faculty to be excited about coming to work; he makes it worthwhile,” Alvergue said. “It’s students like Emilio who will stop coming, or will start transferring out. I know there are a lot of students like him who we really want here. I don’t want students like him to feel isolated, and we need to support them so they don’t feel alone.”



As part of Women’s Studies class “Women’s Life and Experiences in Nicaragua,” Taiveaho embarked for Nicaragua this summer for not just the three-week experience required by the class, an additional three-week adventure.

By extending his trip three weeks, Taiveaho was able to simultaneously complete the Latin American studies six week immersion requirement.

“I wanted to study abroad and I was kind of worried about how much it would cost,” Taiveaho said. “It just made sense.”

For the first few weeks, he studied how women’s geographical location in Nicaragua affects their life and opportunities as part of his class. He and his group were based in Matagalpa, located in the northern area of the country. They traveled to many areas of Nicaragua on the weekends, Taiveaho’s favorite being Mulukuku.

“It was mostly women who transformed it into a community,” Taiveaho said. “It was crazy to see all that feminism. The streets have predominantly feminist graffiti that hasn’t been tampered with.”

During his last three weeks, Taiveaho did two things.

Three hours a day, five days a week, he taught 14- to 24-year-olds an intermediate-level intensive English class through the organization Youth Without Borders.

“A lot of the students were really committed to trying to learn and immerse the language,” Taiveaho said. “Three hours gets long, I feel like I can barely last through three hour lectures myself.”

The students were incredibly committed and Taiveaho said he enjoyed watching their progress.

“There were a couple kids who couldn’t even count to 20, and by the end of it they could count to five or six figures in English,” he said.

Additionally, Taiveaho worked with a textile business “Deladas Indigenas de Nicaragua” in El Chile, creating an English translation of their website so they could appeal to global markets.

While still under a dictatorship, Nicaraguans weren’t allowed to make textiles, as dictator Anastasio Somozo wanted all control over the market. Because of this, indigenous weaving methods were being forgotten.

“Five women stepped up despite knowing the knowledge they had could get them killed,” Taiveaho said, grateful to have met and helped these women with their burgeoning business..

The future

Taiveaho said his Nicaraguan immersion was life-changing, experiencing entirely different lifestyles and living conditions. He says people should “move themselves around the world,” not paying attention to national borders, “physically learning” how different life can be in one place compared to another.

“When we learn about history and Latin American studies, we’re often unattached to the realities of it. It’s not always a textbook (when you study abroad,)” Taiveaho said. “You learn so much more.”

Taiveaho hopes more Latin American students like him can have similar educational opportunities, and plans to “facilitate an exchange” of sorts between countries like Ecuador and Nicaragua and the U.S.

But, Taiveaho believes more Americans could especially benefit from his own immersion experience, just in a different way. Taiveaho has met many Americans who don’t understand so-called third world countries for what they truly are, he said.

“You kind of think they need your help, or they have a lot to learn from you. But a lot of times it’s we who have a lot to learn from them,” he said. “It’s not always missionary work. They’re sometimes more aware of the social fabrics of our lives, and they just have different concerns and awareness than people here.”


Online Editor Meghan Hosely particpated in the 3-week immersion trip titled WMNS 422: Women’s Lives and Experiences in Nicaragua with Taiveaho.