As Irving ISD students return to learn, they no doubt have plenty of stories to share about their summers. However, Irving High School junior Lizbeth Andrades just might have everyone beat as far as unique experiences go. This summer, Andrades participated in a month-long Global Entrepreneurship study abroad program in Berlin, Germany.
The adventure began in Andrades’s Global Business class when her teacher, Jasmine Brazile, spoke to the class about her time studying abroad while in college. It piqued Andrades’s interest, and she began to do some research.
“I wanted to travel to different countries to learn about global business as it is something I’m very interested in and would like to pursue as a future career,” says Andrades. “I really just wanted to get out there and explore the world, and I thought this could be a great opportunity that would be safe since I would be going with certified teachers and other students. I knew I wanted to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Andrades spoke candidly with Ms. Brazile about pursuing a study abroad program, and they worked together to find the right fit as well as a way to pay for it.
“I wanted my students to know that if they wanted to participate in a study abroad that they should not let financial reasons be a barrier,” says Brazile. “I’m a strong believer that if it is meant to be, it is going to happen in some kind of way.”
As they were filling out the application together, Ms. Brazile wondered how she could help Andrades secure funding. Brazile touched base with several people until she was ultimately connected with the Irving Schools Foundation and its Spark Tank program.
Spark Tank is a competitive grant program through the Irving Schools Foundation that awards funds for innovative, enriching and out-of-the-ordinary classroom projects and learning experiences for students of all ages across Irving ISD.
Every month (excluding July and August), the ISF Spark Tank Committee meets to evaluate Spark Tank grant proposals from Irving ISD teachers, counselors, librarians, coaches, administrators or other Irving ISD employees.
Each application includes an informal presentation (of no more than seven minutes), followed by a five-minute period of follow-up questions from the committee. Some funding decisions are made immediately (with applicants notified on the spot or the following day), while other applicants may be notified that further deliberation is required. Funding may be awarded in part or in full, based on both the availability of funding as well as the evaluation committee’s discretion.
“Once I found out about Spark Tank, I got back with Lizbeth and I let her know that we needed to put a presentation together and hopefully they’ll give us some money,” says Brazile.
“I was really nervous while I was presenting but I kept reminding myself that I could do it and it allowed me to feel more confident,” says Andrades. “I started talking, and I was really inspired and motivated to go to Germany, so I just wanted to do my best to secure their support. When they told me they were going to fund my trip I was like ‘Oh my God!’. It was the best feeling and I was so happy. It was an amazing experience. Knowing they were committed to supporting me made me feel like I wasn’t alone.”
Andrades was awarded a total of $2,173.49 to assist in paying for her international study abroad program. Shortly after that, she was in Berlin having the time of her life.
As part of the Summer 2023 Global Entrepreneurship program in CIEE Berlin, Andrades acquired the entrepreneurial skillset and business tools to set up a team, identify a business opportunity and create a start-up. Students also have the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in their new environment and culture.
“As part of the program, you receive a stipend so you’re able to go out to the grocery store and get your own food,” says Andrades. “They taught us how to use the U-Bahn, Berlin’s underground subway, to get around from place to place, and we became familiar with the neighborhood.”
Throughout her three weeks in Berlin, Andrades was exposed to all kinds of new things. One day, they took a trip to a store called Humana, which Andrades describes as a store similar to Goodwill in which people donate their clothing. Whatever isn’t sold in the store is either donated to other countries or shipped to other companies so they can repurpose it and make recycled clothing out of it.
Andrades remembers taking the U-Bahn everywhere and walking around the city, something she found quite interesting.
“The thing about Germany is that they don’t really use cars. As far as transportation, you either walk, use the U-Bahn or ride a bicycle,” says Andrades. “There are a few cars here and there, but you will never see a truck or anything like that because the parking spaces are so small!”
Similarly, the food she was used to having here in the United States did not taste the same in Germany.
“We went to McDonald’s, and the food was so different! Even french fries tasted different!”, she says. “Their fries were similar to the waffle fries they have at Chick-fil-A. I was so surprised.”
Ms. Brazile appreciated that through it all, Andrades was able to formulate a real-world connection that tied back to her class.
“In our Global Business class, we talked about how different places have different foods. So while it might be the McDonald’s restaurant she recognized, you have to keep in mind that McDonald’s is a global business,” Brazile says. “Our french fries may be one thing and their french fries may be something else. That was just a good opportunity for her to be able to actually experience what she learned in the classroom first-hand.
At the conclusion of the three-week summer program, Andrades and her team pitched their start-up idea to a panel of professional investors.
“Our team decided to design an improved version of a meal-kit delivery service,” says Andrades. “Throughout the three weeks, we had guest speakers come in and talk to us about their experience when creating their own company. It was really amazing, and I learned that yes, you can begin with an idea, but you can’t allow it to become your baby. You have to know to let go because maybe you want to do something, but your customers want something different. So you have to change it to fit their wants and needs.”
Now back in the States for the start of her junior year, Andrades is even more determined to follow her dreams. She encourages anyone interested in participating in a study abroad program to go for it.
“If you are afraid of feeling homesick, that is perfectly OK,” says Andrades. “They have counselors there so if you are having issues whether from being there or any other problems, you can go talk to them. If you are in need of any type of accommodation they can get it for you. They are very welcoming. Sure, it’s hard to leave your family, but once you’re there, you have so much support, you feel safe and you can actually enjoy yourself.”
Ms. Brazile is looking forward to having Andrades serve as an inspiration to other students, so they too can go out and explore the world.
“She is going to be an ambassador for our school and the district, and I hope this coming year we can get more students, to go out there and apply for a Spark Tank grant, find a study abroad program and take advantage of the opportunities at their disposal to go see the world,” says Brazile. “Being able to see what other people are doing will allow them to experience firsthand everything that their teachers are teaching them. Whether it’s in a foreign language, whether it’s international business, whatever it may be. They can go out there and say OK, my teacher was right about XYZ, this is actually what’s going on.”
Since 2013, ISF has funded over 300 projects totaling more than $1 million and impacting nearly 200,000 students, teachers and staff. To learn more about Spark Tank, the Irving Schools Foundation or its other programs, please visit IrvingSchoolsFoundation.org.