Alumni Outlook Magazine

Q and A with Gregory L. Trzebiatowski ’59

Q and A with Gregory L. Trzebiatowski ’59

Greg Trzebiatowski with a 10th grade student at the Thomas Jefferson School
What motivated you to establish The Thomas Jefferson School, a bilingual, private college-preparatory school in Concepcion, Chile?

People ask this question quite frequently. Those who know me quite well usually ask the question in a slightly different form, “What ever possessed you?” They ask this after they find out I funded the project with my own resources and gave up a senior tenured position at Ohio State University.

Starting a school in a foreign country is really a natural extension of my desire to help other people. My teaching allowed me to express this desire but after some major life changes, I decided it was time to try a new venture.

Why is your school’s curriculum based on a U.S. college prep school?

After my first visit to a rural public elementary school where I saw a one room school with a single bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling and kids who didn’t come to school during the rainy winter season because they didn’t have decent shoes or clothing—and, of course, the building was unheated—I decided to try and help.

After many months of pondering how one individual could make an impact on such an enormous problem, I realized that the real need was enlightened leaders. I decided to try to educate individuals who could not only make themselves rich but who also had a social conscience that would goad them into creating jobs or providing human services for the poor instead of simply ignoring them.

Why is English the dominant language of instruction?

If our graduates are going to move into leadership positions at some point in their career, they will need English for advanced study, business or diplomatic exchange. Globalization is here in a big way. Chile has free trade agreements with the United States, China and the European Union; therefore, if we are to export our fruit, wine, copper and wood products, English is essential.

You almost have to live outside the United States to realize how much of an international language English has become. The Chilean Ministry of Education has officially adopted a program called “English Opens Doors,” declaring that all Chileans will speak English by 2015.

Are you doing any current research in bilingual and bicultural education in foreign schools?

I’m looking into the issue of reading comprehension in both Spanish and English. As a result of this research, I am combining our “foreign” language (English) department with our “mother tongue” (Spanish) department. Because both languages have Latin and Greek roots, there is an estimated 60 percent overlap between the two languages. This overlap is not currently exploited in teaching Spanish to English speakers or English to Spanish speakers.

What do you do in your spare time?

My current non-school project is building a home on my farm in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, about 90 minutes from Concepcion and 40 minutes from a ski resort and hot springs called the Termas de Chillan. I plan to return to my agricultural roots when I retire.

What do you like most about living in Chile?

The friendly people, the much less hectic lifestyle, the sheer beauty of the country and perhaps surprisingly, the frontier atmosphere: it’s everyman for himself and watch your back. I’d have a hard time adjusting to living in the U.S. It is so organized as to be boring.

How can UW-Stout alumni help your school?

Come and visit for a short or long stay. I’ll put you to work as a teacher or tutor and advise you on what to see and do while in Chile.

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