Graduate Spotlight: Gillian Esquivia-Cohen, Bilingual/Bicultural Education ☆

For the past two years as a student in TC’s Bilingual/Bicultural Education program, Gillian Esquivia-Cohen has been working with child immigrants, new-arrivals to U.S. classrooms, and researching traumatic immigration (trauma that results from severe psychological stress either immediately before, during, or immediately after the immigration process.) Traumatic immigration is much more common than educators and administrators have previously recognized, though the issue is beginning to attract some attention.

This past year, Gillian Esquivia-Cohen has been busy student teaching, as well as preparing and presenting her Integrated Project, which is akin to a thesis in her program.  The issue of traumatic immigration was also the focus of this project, which she presented in January.  Specifically, she investigated bibliotherapy, the use of thoughtfully selected, developmentally-appropriate literature that is thematically and culturally relevant to a child’s current situation to help gain insight into and cope with problems they are experiencing.

Esquivia-Cohen has gained a lot in her experience here. “TC is such a rich environment, with so many resources, once you know where to look, who to talk to, etc.  My time at TC was immensely rewarding.  I only wish I had had more time to take more courses outside of our program.”

She looks forward to taking what she learned here out into the field. “Probably my biggest take away is that good teachers never stop learning.  I had the opportunity to work alongside two fantastic, veteran teachers during my two semesters of student teaching and what I saw in their classrooms was that effective teaching requires doing your homework: really getting to know the students and their situations, trying to figure out how they learn best, and what they need from you as the teacher.  Even though my time as a graduate student is coming to an end, I know I’ll remain a student in my own classrooms.”

Post-graduation, Esquivia-Cohen will be moving back to Colombia.  Before coming to TC, she and her Colombian partner had lived and worked in the Northern Conflict Zone with internally displaced communities and other rural communities that had been particularly hard hit by violence and neglected by their government.  This time they’ll be living in Bogotá, where Esquivia-Cohen will be working with internally displaced children and researching what methods Colombian professionals have found that classroom teachers can use to help these young people heal and adjust to their new lives in the capital.

“This work will be an extension of my Integrated Project, as traumatic migration, such as internal displacement, has many of the same psychological repercussions as traumatic immigration: one just involves crossing a border.”

After she finishes her research about a year from now, she plans to teach elementary school in Bogotá, hopefully with internally displaced and/or underprivileged children.