Personal growth and a desire to serve empower Tara Perry's summer trips


“A promise is a promise” as the saying goes, and for young students in Honduras a promise will be kept this summer, when Western’s Tara Perry returns to their classroom.

Last summer while on a direct service project where her main goal was to serve, teach, and learn from the community, she found it difficult to communicate with her students because she was not fluent in Spanish, so she set out to change that.

“The language barrier was difficult, it took much longer to explain concepts to them because they were not able to fully understand me,” she said. “I wanted to make things easier for all of us by learning Spanish.”

Perry traveled to Honduras as a part of the Roatan Alive mission program. The program was created by leaders in Toronto, Ontario and every summer the leaders and other participants travel to Honduras to carry out various programs for the community. It is fully bilingual program where all of our classes and programs include translators for those who are not fluent.   

Perry took Spanish classes at Western and Whatcom Community College in preparation for this trip and she is excited to return and show the students her progress. She will also travel to Guatemala to live with a host family and practice her Spanish while serving and learning from the community.   

Getting students outside the classroom and immersed in these cultures can give them skills no textbook can teach.

Perry,  an associate professor of Communication Studies, travels abroad most summers to learn, volunteer, research and teach. She has taught in Mexico, Canada, Guatemala, Honduras, and Antigua in the past few years, and this year she intends to return to Central America— but this time around she will not only teach but she will be a student as well.

“I've always been into international work and relationships. I did this because I thought this would be a great opportunity to maximize my curriculum,” said Perry. “Getting students outside the classroom and immersed in these cultures can give them skills no textbook can teach,” said Perry. 

Perry said that she visits these countries because of the passion she sees in the students  that she teaches.

“What gets me out of bed to do this is that the students are so on fire for learning. They come to school and they can’t wait to participate. They show up early, it doesn't matter if its raining or sunny,” Perry said.      


First things first:        

Before she leaves this summer she has some important training to finish. Perry will teach Communication & Public Speaking with emphasis in social justice at Western’s College Quest program for 10th and 11th graders. Perry has also been selected from more than 120 applicants for participation in the Social Justice Training Institute in Springfield, Massachusetts, in June.

The Social Justice Training Institute provides an intensive laboratory experience for the professional and personal development of social justice educators and practitioners. 

Perry said she is incredibly excited about this opportunity and she has been dreaming about being accepted ever since she found out about it. She said she looks forward to applying the insights she learns from the institute to her curriculum and the community.

“I can't wait to go,” she said.     

 She added that this training will go hand in hand with what she teaches in her classes because she always includes a service-learning component or social-justice issue in each course.

“ I want us to think about not just ourselves, but about what we can do to be contributors to this community,” said Perry.

Perry said she is excited about the opportunity for self-improvement and about how she can be better prepared to teach her students about tough issues.       

“It is vital for me as a woman of color at a predominantly white institution to continue to educate myself about how to be a social-justice activist, which comes with a lot of challenges,” Perry said. “We’re talking about issues on a daily basis, inside the classroom and outside the classroom, that nobody wants to talk about. We’re talking about race, we’re talking about gender, we’re talking about homelessness.”

An alumna of WWU, Perry received a degree in Journalism with  minors  in French and Communication. She also earned a master's degree in Communication and a doctorate in Cultural Studies and Social Thought from Washington State University. Perry taught at Washington State University from 1995 until 2000 when she became a professor at Western.

Now in her 18th year at Western, Perry continues her life long goals of building community, serving others, learning and teaching.

“It is so important to me to keep growing as a person, and these trips do that for me,” she said. “I love them.”