Global Activism with North Country Roots: Recent Alumna Awarded Fulbright to Teach in Ecuador | St. Lawrence University

Global Activism with North Country Roots: Recent Alumna Awarded Fulbright to Teach in Ecuador

For Julianne DeGuardi ’17, curiosity has fueled her ambitious exploration as a student and as a graduate. Now, she will be able to use her insatiable drive to learn, teach others, and make a difference as a Fulbright U.S. Student Program Grant recipient.

During her senior year at St. Lawrence, in between meetings with her advisor, exams, papers, a weekly shift at the Language Resource Center, and Laurentian Singers rehearsals, DeGuardi made regular Friday- or Saturday-afternoon trips to a dairy farm in Hermon, N.Y. There, she conducted English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for migrant dairy farmers, helping them learn about their health and safety rights while investigating their journey to the North Country and the global trends that brought them there. Her Fulbright grant will allow her to teach English in Ecuador this upcoming October.

DeGuardi, who was a Spanish and global studies double major at St. Lawrence, is the 11th St. Lawrence graduate to receive this honor and the first to teach in Ecuador. She is passionate about immigration advocacy in the U.S., and this grant will allow her to continue exploring the questions and challenges regarding displacement and immigration that sparked her interest as a student.

“I’m primarily interested in the immigration and refugee situation in urban areas,” she says. “I’ll be in the classroom 20 hours a week, but I’m also responsible for a side project. I’m hoping to do some kind of research or volunteer work with a non-profit that performs legal and social services for the immigrant and refugee population in Ecuador.”

Classes at St. Lawrence empower students to find intrinsic value in asking new questions, seeking new information, and pursuing new experiences. DeGuardi traces the impetus to volunteer with North Country dairy farmers, the inspiration for her senior thesis, and her decision to apply for a Fulbright grant back to a two-week off-campus study course in Mexico she took during the summer before her junior year. “Mexico: Cultural Ecology in the Yucatan,” which was taught by Martha Chew Sánchez, associate professor and co-coordinator of the Caribbean Latin American and Latino Studies Program, gave DeGuardi an opportunity to learn, first-hand, about the global economic forces that displace local farmers, scattering them to locations across the U.S.—including the North Country.

“Having that on-the-ground experience in another country and being able to see both sides of an issue was so valuable,” DeGuardi says. “I’ve been longing to do something like that again—where I get to connect the dots from abroad and bring it back home.”

The Fulbright Program aims to promote cross-cultural education through exchanges around the world, and DeGuardi says that her application focused heavily on how she plans to use her experience in Ecuador to improve intercultural relations and communication in her community when she returns to the U.S.

“I emphasized ‘culturally responsive education,’ that back-and-forth, two-way street where I’m learning from my students and they’re learning from me,” she says.

In her professional career, DeGuardi hasn’t shied away from the challenging questions she explored as a student, and she continues to advocate for immigrant communities in her new home. Since graduating, she’s been living and working in Denver, Colorado, first in a bilingual classroom as a teacher with AmeriCorps’ City Year program, then as a paralegal at a local immigration law firm, where she helped families navigate the barriers to acquiring a green card.

“I’ve seen the gaps in our education system where immigrant communities are underserved and there are fewer resources and funding in schools. It’s opened my eyes to a lot of education inequities,” she says, noting that families of children who perform better in school are more likely to secure permanent residency.

She describes Ecuador as an ideal place to expand her advocacy skills as she continues to pursue her passion for education equality among immigrant communities.

“After working with a lot of immigrants from Latin America, I knew I wanted to go to a Latin American country,” she says. “I did some research and learned that Ecuador has the highest refugee population in the region. I’m hoping to bridge the experiences I’ve had here, see what education and immigration advocacy looks like in Ecuador, and have a broader skillset to be a better advocate for immigrant communities in the US.”

Though the present circumstances lend some uncertainty to her travel timeline, DeGuardi, an eternal optimist, is hopeful. If she doesn’t make it to Ecuador this October, she can continue the important work she’s doing as a program manager with Denver Kids, a local nonprofit that works to empower students in Denver’s public school system. She’ll hone the skills that will serve her abroad while nourishing a passion to create change when she returns.