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Bethel Team Continues Almost 10-Year Partnership with Colombia School


COLOMBIA — For almost ten years, a group of Bethel University students regularly travels abroad to Cali, Colombia, and volunteers at the local school named Colegio Americano. The teams are continuing a relationship that began in 1928 when Reverend L. Swartz arrived as the first Cumberland Presbyterian Church Missionary to work in western Colombia, and, after three years, with the support of the Presbyterian Ladies of the United States, created the school as a means of a social service to the community. The school was initially called the Colombian School and was led by two American teachers, Mary Ethel Roa Brintle and Bernice Barnett. The two women were alumni of Bethel College now known as Bethel University. Under their leadership, the school became the first mixed educational institution with no distinctions between race, creeds, or nationalities and the primary means of educating evangelical Christians.
For seven days in March, nine volunteers joined co-leaders Garrett and Jessica Burns on a spring trip that took them away from their U.S.-based classrooms and inside the Colegio Americano's English classes. Their contribution focused on interacting with students and English teachers, some of whom rarely speak with native English speakers.
Angelica Poveda, the Coordinator of Student Well Being at Colegio Americano, underscores the value of the exchange of cultures.
“As global citizens, the exchange of expressions, meaning, and vocabulary as well as food and music is the most important,” she said. “It is a joy to be able to have volunteers here who love the culture wholeheartedly and are willing to try new things but also sharing their culture and leaving a lasting imprint on the students, teachers and staff.”
To coordinate the learning experiences of both teachers and volunteers, Poveda partners with Stacie Freeman, Bethel University Global Studies Director and Co-Founder of Global Citizen Adventure Corps. The two connected in 2014 when Poveda traveled to Bethel University and spoke to Freeman regarding her role as director of the Global Studies Program. Their meeting resulted in the first volunteer program in Cali that took place in 2015. In 2022, Global Citizen Adventure Corps was formed as a nonprofit with Bethel as its educational partner, offering transferable credit for the required curriculum and making scholarships possible to ensure students had access to financial aid to help cover the cost of the trip.
Poveda shared that thanks to the continuing partnership between BU Global Studies, GCAC and Colegio Americano, the week volunteers are on campus has been designated as English Week. During this week, she explained, students and teachers hear more English on campus than at any other time of the year. The teachers plan activities so students and volunteers can interact in the classroom. However, the volunteers also engage informally around lunch breaks and during presentations in school assemblies.
While English is offered as a class, Colegio Americano is not classified as a bilingual school, and, therefore, all teachers are not required to know English. The English teachers benefit each year as they join the volunteers after school to explain the culture and history in Cali by way of tours and even salsa dancing lessons. These shared experiences are some of the first times many have spoken with native English speakers, and the relationships formed have long-lasting impacts personally and professionally.

In the future, Poveda would like to organize a group of students from ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades to travel to Bethel University and experience life as a college student in Tennessee. She would also like to see Colegio Americano teachers travel to the United States and learn in a predominantly English-speaking environment.
Asked about the partnership, Poveda said, “It opens doors for everyone to be citizens of the world. Having a global perspective means volunteers can really value what they have and carry an understanding of other parts of the world. It is a way to show God’s love. Love is what unites us as global citizens – the love for people and the love for others even with differences between each other.”
She also noted the benefits for the English students in Cali including more opportunities for jobs and scholarships after their education at Colegio Americano and connecting to not only the U.S. team but other people from different countries as English is often the language that allows for that possibility.
The team Co-Leader Garrett Burns is the Chaplain and Director of Community Engagement at Bethel and returned for his fifth volunteer experience in Colombia with this team. A former student of Freeman’s in whose class he experienced “firsthand how to LOVE and LEARN about people,” he marks the continuation of the sister schools’ historical relationship as significant.
“The work that began in 1928 with Bethel students is continuing today through Bethel students,” he said. “God calls students, teachers, and professionals back to Colombia every year where we experience Colombian hospitality, the exotic excitement of Cali culture, and the spiritual blessing of Christ - love for neighbor and care for his children.”
Days after returning to Tennessee, plans were already underway for 2025.
“My heart is full for many reasons as our Colombia team shares about their experiences this year,” said Freeman. “I’m excited that the formation of GCAC meant we were able to help three students with scholarships towards their costs, that we now have even more evidence that GCAC is ready to walk alongside any church, club, school or organization and plan a program that will fit their interests and needs, and that one of my former students is the first of our expanding GCAC team to lead a group successfully. We are delighted for what was accomplished and for what the future holds.”
The team included Garrett Burns, Jessica Burns, and Jacob Ervin of McKenzie; Koryn Fenty of Paris; Brandi George of Dresden; Sydney Moyer of Hokes Bluff, AL; Charli Rice and Christa Rice of Covington; Trevor Scott of Humboldt; Carson Stover of Union City, and Mercedes Wright of Camden.
Global Citizen Adventure Corps is a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to cultivating global citizens through education, service, and travel. By offering transferable college credit and donor-funded scholarships, GCAC actively builds pathways between rural high schools, universities, and a robust network of global nonprofit partners to provide travel program opportunities to underserved students. For more information visit www.globalcitizenadventurecorps.org.