Thursday, January 31, 2008

Introducing Liz Girten, SPAN 232 student blogger

Hi! My name is Liz Girten and this semester I am taking the community based learning class Spanish 232. I decided that I wanted to take this class because I really loved the idea of experiencing real life Spanish conversations while helping out the Champaign-Urbana community. I love to volunteer and I think it is unique that this class combines typical classroom work with a volunteer project. My community partner is the Champaign Central High School. I work with the ESL class and help students if they have trouble understanding their homework assignments. So far I really enjoy it! The kids and teachers are so grateful for the help and have been very welcoming. It feels good to be using my Spanish skills in a real life situation and I feel satisfied knowing I have helped other students.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Using YouTube for SPAN 232 Diarios Digitales

SPAN 232 students: Instructions for Posting your Diario Digital to YouTube

1. You probably know how to use YouTube better than I. If you do, skip the rest and just know this: you need to title your video "Diario Digital 3" (or whatever number it is) and share your video with your TA (e-mail address) and with me (

2. If you don't already have a YouTube account, go to and "Sign Up" to create your account. If you already have an account or after you have created one, "Log In."

3. Go to "Account" --> Contacts & Subscribers --> "My Contacts."

4. "Invite your friens to join YouTube," and invite your TA (e-mail address) and me ( Copy to your "Friends."

5. Go back to home page and click on "Upload."

6. Fill in required fields. Title your video "Diario Digital 3" (or whatever number it is).

7. "Broadcast Options": Choose "Private." Expand "Friends" or "Contacts." Check your TA's e-mail address and

8. Choose setting for "Date & Map Options" and "Sharing Options."

9. "Upload a video."

Follow these instructions precisely! And I highly suggest that you do this way before the deadline so that you don't post late.

Good luck. :)

Ann Abbott

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Student Blogger

I love my students. I love blogging about my students (former and present). And I love the fact that one of my students is now going to blog!

(By the way, that's my former student Emily on the right in this picture. I keep seeing her in the mornings after she's done with her yoga class and I'm pulling in to my parking lot. Hola, Emily.)

Elizabeth Girten is enrolled in SPAN 232 "Spanish in the Community" and is going to blog here regularly about her experiences with Spanish community service learning for her James Scholar Learning Agreement.

If there are any other students interested in doing the same honors project, please contact me.

Here is the information I gave Elizabeth:

  • Write a total of 14 posts, at least one per week.
  • Write in English--with some Spanish sprinkled in if you want.
  • Posts can be brief, but you do need to develop your idea/reflection.
  • Write a title for each post.
  • Include a photograph of yourself/others in the community or an image that is related. No clipart drawings, please. Send your photos as an attachment (jpg, gif, etc.).
  • Blog posts are easiest to read when you break up your text into short paragraphs, bullet points, numbered lists, etc.
  • Post 1. Picture of you, name of the course and why you took it, where you're working in the community, other general information.
  • Post 2. Picture of your mode of transportation to get to your community service learning (you walking, biking, your car, the bus, whatever) and a post about what it means to you to get off campus, in practical terms as well as other terms.
  • Post 3-the end. Whatever you want, as long as it is related to CBL and shows true reflection on your experiences in the community or in the classroom.
  • Permission. Print this document, sign it and turn it in to my box in 4080 FLB. If you take a picture of someone else (showing their face or identifying them in some way), you have to ask them to fill out the same form.
  • Don't take any pictures of minors, at least not showing their faces.
  • Don't steal pictures from the web. Use your digital camera or cell phone to take pictures that document your time in the community.
  • E-mail your posts & pictures to, and I will put them up on the blog. (Remember, send your pictures as attachments.)
I can't wait to see her perspective!


Saturday, January 26, 2008

SPAN 232: How to do a diario digital

Fulbright Scholarship: Nicole Pivato, Spain

I recently received a newsletter from the Office of Scholarships for International Studies. I was happy to see an update from Nicole Pivato, a former Spanish CBL student who is currently in Spain on a Fulbright. She teaches English and American culture in a school near Madrid. (See previous post.)

Here is what Nicole had to say for the newsletter:

"We are not allowed to speak Spanish in front of the students. The teachers go to the extreme to actively tell them that the "poor TA's" don't know any Spanish. It sounds intimidating to try to explain the digestive system to second graders in their non-native language, but overall the students understand an impressive amount. ... Some days I help out in the classroom, other days I have conversation sessions and work with pairs of students. Other times I can give nearly the entire lesson. It is most important for me to be flexible and go with the flow of how the classroom teacher wants to put me to use."

Students, be sure to look into the scholarships offered by this office on campus. Your experiences with Spanish community service learning can really boost your applications if you include them in a strategic way in your application materials!


Friday, January 25, 2008

Warmer Days

The temperatures in Champaign have been so cold the last few days, that the public schools had to cancel classes. My students came to class yesterday all bundled up.

Here's a reminder of warmer days to come. Marcos Campillo (current SPAN 232 TA) holding his class on the quad.

Career Paths After Spanish Community-based Learning: Jessica Wetmore

I recently heard from a former student, Jessica Wetmore, and I was very excited to see the ways in which the fundamentals of Spanish community service learning are threaded through the very fabric of everything she seems to do.

Jessica took my two Spanish CBL courses ("Spanish in the Community" and "Spanish & Entrepreneurship") while she was a UIUC student. She worked at both the Refugee Center and Child Care Resource Services. Her Spanish was beautiful (she was a heritage speaker; her mother was from Spain), she had the perspective that international experiences give you, she had worked with Alternative Spring Break on campus, and she was simply smart!

After graduation, Jessica worked with Admission Possible in Minnesota. She wrote to me while she was in that program and encouraged other students to apply. At the time she said: "Admission Possible has ... been recognized in Princeton Review's national search for the 2008 edition of Best Entry-Level Jobs!"

Now Jessica is a student at Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
The program looks very interesting, and the faculty profiles show a rich breadth of research interests. (I recently heard one of their faculty members, David Audretsch, speak at an international entrepreneurship conference.) I think it is also important for our students to click on the "Alumni Success" link so that they can imagine future careers for themselves.

Here are Jessica's own words:

"Hola Ann!

"I just wanted to drop you a note to update you on how I'm doing and thank you so much for writing my recommendation for Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs. My first semester went very well and I'm even more excited about this semester now that I'm getting into my focused classes of Non-profit Management. I'm even talking a "Principles of Social Entrepreneurship" class that is very interesting and I thought of you. I'm also using my Spanish with a work-study sort of program the school offers; I'm working at an HIV/AIDS organization through the local hospital and I'm in charge of the Latino Outreach programs, so I'm getting to use my Spanish and am learning a lot about the HIV and nonprofit field. I really appreciate your help in getting me into this program, since it's such a good fit for me. If you know any students that would be interested in the program or if you want to learn more about it, please let me know and I'd be more than happy to talk about it.

"I hope your semester is going well so far and that things in Champaign are as great as always. No matter how much I love it here, I'm still an Illini at heart and hold your classes dear to my heart.

"Muchisimas gracias!

"Take care,


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Report Shows Employers Value Community-Learning

My department Head, Prof. Diane Musumeci, just passed along an interesting document titled "How Should Colleges Assess and Improve Student Learning: Employers' Views on the Accountability Challenge." Click here to read it.

Spanish & Illinois offers students both community learning as well as faculty-supervised internships--employers' top two picks for assessing recent grads' potential employment success. Our Spanish community service learning courses conclude with lessons on how students can connect their service learning to their job searches in meaningful ways, we teach entrepreneurship, and our summer internships give students very valuable work experience and networking opportunities.

Many of the details in the Spanish & Illinois curriculum were based on my intuition, the faculty development programs I have attended through CIBER and AEL, dialogue with my colleague, Darcy Lear, and hearing my husband talk about his employees and his frustrations when he tries to hire people for his company, ISS, Inc. This report urges me to continue to push students to make explicit connections between their community service learning and their career preparedness.

It's good to see that these are the things that employers--as well as students and their parents--value.


Spanish Community Service Learning and Transnational Migration

As an instructor and coordinator of Spanish community service learning, one of my greatest satisfactions comes from students who say that their experiences in the course have changed their ideas about immigration and immigrants. And this is not an infrequent comment, even though the vast majority of our students come to Spanish community service learning with an already open view of Latin American immigration to the US.
Many times, I have seen that the actual "crossing" stories have great impact on the students.
A few semesters ago, students who worked with one of our community partners learned of the case of a very young girl who became pregnant by her "coyote."
Jose Miguel Lemus, a wonderful TA with whom I have had the fortune to work, collected oral histories from his students, and some of them interviewed their own family members about their "border" stories. With the students' permission, those stories are now the basis of very rich discussions in our classes.

When I was in Italy over the holidays, I heard "crossing" stories from Eastern Europeans who come to work in Western Europe. One woman told me the story of a group of Ukranians led by a "coyote" (of course they don't use that term) on a rickety, jerry-rigged footbridge over a swollen, swift river. He told them they had to be quiet in order to not be spotted. One woman slipped and fell into the river. Another woman--her sister-in-law--yelled and said, "She's fallen. We have to help her." The "coyote's" response? He pushed the yelling woman into the river, and reminded everyone else to be silent.

Truth or myth? I'm not sure. It may be an urban legend that serves as a cautionary tale.

Still, it is important for students to understand that immigrants everywhere must make a serious decision when they decide to cross borders. Their situation in their community of origin must be dire enough to propel them to take that very significant risk.

Just this morning I received an-mail from Ian Easton with one of his grad school papers attached. In it, he described the thousands of "illegal" Chinese immigrants within Russia. Again, another very interesting case of global transnational migration.

It's important that students realize, and that we teach them, that the immigration stories they see during their Spanish community service learning courses fit within a broader, global perspective of human migration.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

When a Second Language Isn't Enough

Some students throw themselves into Spanish while in college--classes, study abroad, Spanish community service learning, Spanish honor society, Spanish-speaking friends--but then after graduation find themselves only around Spanish when they go to a Mexican restaurant. It has changed their perspectives, helped them have a more "international" world-view, but the connection is lost after college ends.

Then there are students for whom language and cultures--or in some cases, languages--seems to be woven into the very fabric of their lives. (I was like that; I couldn't have imagined building a life for myself after undergrad that didn't include languages and international experiences. So I got a PhD in Spanish, married someone from Italy, and have to wrap my mind around three languages--English, Spanish and Italian--and one dialect--Bergamasco--sometimes on a daily basis.)

Ian Easton is definitely one of the latter. He was in my SPAN 232 course with a truly extraordinary group of students. All of them were special in their own way. Ian stood out for his intelligence, curiosity, openness, and world experiences. (Oh, yeah--and those eyes!) He was also studying Asian languages at the same time he studied Spanish.

Now he's a grad student in Taiwan. He sends occassional e-mails detailing his adventures (and misadventures) as a student, a teacher, and as an ethnic outsider. The stories are funny and insightful, with Ian always able to laugh at himself.

I've told Ian this before--I hope he's saving these e-mails so that he can publish a book with them!

I'm not sure if he knows how much I enjoy reading his e-mail updates. They open a window onto a totally new world for me. I learn a lot from his stories, especially his recounting of those little culture-shocks that happen to us all when we venture forth from our own communities. (Aha! That's the connection to Spanish community service learning in this post!)

Below you'll find his latest group e-mail. It's long, but it clearly shows why I enjoy them so much.

Good luck with everything, Ian. You're a real inspiration to UIUC students. :)


"Dear all,

"Happy New Year from Taipei! It’s been a long time since I've written and I just thought I'd write and catch up on a few stories.

"It’s been an interesting semester. It started with the sudden appearance of pigs in the streets of the city. It’s the year of the pig (for a few more weeks anyways) and so a number of shop owners bought pot-bellied pigs for good luck. A couple live in my neighborhood and I have made friends with them. Now that it’s colder they trot around with little hand-knitted sweaters like the dogs, and sometimes you even catch one cruising around on a moped with its owner. You would have to see it to believe it.

"In September there were a couple of earthquakes, nothing big, but the pipes at the home of one of the families I tutor burst and flooded the upstairs. Then there was a "super" typhoon which hit Taipei head-on with sustained winds of 115 m/hr. I was hunkered down inside most of the storm but eventually I got hungry and went out to look for something to eat. Everything was closed, of course, but I was fascinated by the scenes on the street: trees down everywhere, debris of all sorts, and a few daring kids blown right off their mopeds in front of me. I was soaking wet and my umbrella ripped apart by the wind, but I tucked in and kept walking the surreally empty streets. And then I heard a tremendous metallic groaning from the building above me and dodged out of the way just as a giant neon sign the size of a truck came down in a shower of sparks and twisted electric wires. That’s when I decided it might be a good idea to go back inside.

"Not a week after that there was a massive cold-war style military parade in front of the presidential office to celebrate the founding of the Republic of China with tanks and missile erectors driving through the city and wave after wave of fighter jets and helicopters flying overhead. I felt like I had gone back in time as I watched. There was another earthquake, but nothing serious.

"I was invited to a luxury hotel to be an international taste-tester, part of Taipei's culinary "food week" festival, and spent one whole afternoon in a banquet hall eating mud crab, stinky tofu, 'buddha's delight' (which also stank), pig entrails, and god-knows what else while reporters shoved cameras and microphones in our faces to catch every reaction. The other international "judges" and I decided stinky tofu and pig entrails (i.e. guts, stomach lining, liver, hoof and rectum) did not past mustard, and voted for the dumplings and spring rolls. Several of the reporters were devastated. It was an experience all around, and afterwards I very undiplomatically went straight to Cold Stone to have a banana split to get the taste out of my mouth.

"A week or so later I was preparing to do some Christmas shopping. It was a sunny warm Saturday and I had just finished a tutoring class up in the wealthy suburbs north of the city. I got on the 285 bus and settled in for the 45 minute drive to downtown Taipei where I had plans to meet some friends at the concert hall. They were competing for cash prizes in a Chinese singing competition and I thought I would see what its like to hear foreign students from around the world sing in Chinese before doing my shopping. The bus pulled up to a light and another bus from the 285 bus line pulled up next to us and the two drivers rolled down their windows and started chatting as they sometimes do. Well these two drivers seemed to be best buddies and before I knew it they were laughing and hollering and slapping their knees. I was in the back of the bus and since they were jabbering in Taiwanese dialect I couldn’t be sure what they were talking so happily about, but it soon became clear that they had made a bet. They were going to drag race. And so off we went squealing through narrow lanes and over highway bridges, around mopeds and bicycles and carts hauling sugar cane and trucks of all description. Two massive city buses at full speed, with the two psycho drivers egging each other on, and me sitting in the back holding on for the ride (all the other passengers got off the first chance they got). Now it should be noted that I ride the Taipei buses almost every day and had never seen anything like it before. And even though the drivers were idiots, and despite bus racing being dangerous and reckless, I have to admit it was pretty fun and I was at the concert hall in record time. As I jumped off the bus, which never really came to a stop, rather just drifted though the stop in neutral before speeding off again, I imagined tomorrows Taipei Times headline: City Bus Drag Race Results in massive pile-up, Dozens Injured.

"Then came the massive global warming protest march mob. They had gathered at the square in front of the concert hall and as I was headed in they were noisily making their way out. Next I knew, I was swimming against the current in a stream of Asian hippies and school kids dressed in dinosaur costumes and hundreds of people beating on drums and yelling in loudspeakers about how unlivable the globe was becoming. I smiled and grabbed a poster or two and made my way through the throng as best as I could. And once inside the massive concert hall (which also features a movie theatre, and library, a calligraphy gallery, an art gallery, several small museums, shops and cafes) I promptly got lost and ended up in the darkened main hall watching the dress rehearsal for Arabian Nights Belly Dancing. Looked to be a good show (though the girls had to shake out a few kinks yet), but I couldn't stay for too long as my friends were calling me and so finally I found the side hall they were in.

"The singing contest was a mixture of extreme talent and tonal dare deviling. The highlight was a 300 pound African girl named Sha Sha with the energy to match her size, who rapped spit-fire in Chinese and danced so hard her wig fell off. The whole room was dancing and laughing and she won the 300 US dollar prize. After the show I went for a big Sushi dinner with friends and then shopping. On the way we walked across the square past teenagers break dancing, cheerleading dance teams practicing routines, old men flying kites, kung fu classed swinging swords, kids chasing balloons and couples walking their dogs (most unleashed and running wildly and happily and causing a couple of the old men to get their kite strings tangled and to start bickering). It was a good day.

"Christmas was good, and I fought homesickness the best I could with a combination of Christmas parties, ribs, steak, salmon and rum punch. My Christmas tree and lights are still up and I plan to keep them that way until at least St. Patricks Day.

"Now its time to buckle down, finish all my term papers and prepare my thesis proposal defense.

"Miss you all and hope this finds you in all the best of health and New Year's Happiness!


"P.S. I reached a Mandarin milestone this semester, my first novel: Hemingways 'The old Man and the Sea' in Chinese. Now I'm reading a lighter novel about a student doctor in residency in Taipei's Medical University Hospital. Its full of funny stories about the warring egos of doctors and the students caught in the middle. Thus my Chinese vocabulary set now includes not only words like "harpoon" "fish bait" and "shark dorsal fin," but also "ass-kissing" "organ transplant" "blood transfusion"...and of course "Buddha's Delight!"

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Technology and Spanish Community Service Learning

Hands-on, experiential learning is what makes community service learning so effective. However, technology can vastly improve the efficiency with which instructors and directors can tackle the administrative tasks.

Here are some technology tips:

  • Create a simple webpage with clear instructions. For this semester I provided a bullet-point list for students to follow. Click here to see.

  • Spell out everything, even if it seems obvious to you. For example, I told students several times and in several venues that only those working at the Refugee Center and BTWashington School would have orientations today; all other organizations would arrange their own orientations at their own times. Students were still confused. Finally, a sent out a group e-mail with orientation details for each and every community partner organization. The questions then stopped.

  • React to feedback. I couldn't understand why students had so many questions about the BTW orientation. Finally, I looked back over what I had written. I never actually said that the BTW orientation was AT BTW. No wonder. I'll fix that next semester.

  • Have students self-schedule. I uploaded the community partner schedules document to From there, I "invited" all students to be "collaborators" on that document. They were able to access the document, write their name and e-mail address at the appropriate place/time, edit their choices when they changed their minds, and do this all in real-time.

  • Do a test-run. In future semesters, I will upload an empty document to and ask all students to write their names. That way, any student with technical difficulties can find out before the "race" to schedule themselves at their favorite organization at their most convenient time.

  • Share the administrative load. Once students had self-scheduled, from I invited all my community partners to be "viewers" of the document. That way, the community partners could simply copy and paste the names and e-mails of the students working with them and e-mail them with further details about their work and schedules.

  • Use just one e-mail account. To set up a document at you need a gmail account. (You don't need one to be "invited", however.) I never read my gmail account. But since that address showed up when I sent messages from, students replied to it, even though I told them to use my UIUC account. I was going crazy checking two accounts. So I decided to have all gmail messages forwarded to my UIUC account. Here's how to do that in gmail: click on "settings" in upper-right corner; click on "Forwarding and POP/IMAP" on upper-horizontal bar; fill in the correct information for "forwarding."
I managed to organize almost 130 students, 4 TAs and 10 community partners within four (extremely intense!) days using the technological strategies above. One of the best things about using google docs was being able to work from the office and home on the same document.


Update: Sometimes you still need to just pick up the phone. I called Julie Healy to see how the orientations had gone at BTW. She told me that their school starts at 9:00, but my schedule listed it at 8:30. How had I missed that for so many semesters?!?! And she said that it would be better to have students turn in their criminal background check forms as early as possible, even before the semester starts (the way I did it before).

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Numbers: Impact of Spanish Community Service Learning

The spring semester starts on Monday. The impact that Spanish community service learning will have this semester is very exciting. (It's especially exciting because just three years ago I taught the pilot course of SPAN 232 with only 12 students and 1 community partner.)

  • Students from three sources will participate in community service learning: SPAN 232 "Spanish in the Community" students, SPAN 332 "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" students, and students doing an honors project for other Spanish courses.
  • Students can choose from amongst 10 community partner organizations, representing a broad spectrum of services, contact possibilities with Spanish-speakers and professional insights for students.

  • Over 120 UIUC Spanish students will take their learning outside the confines of the classroom. By working with the local Latino community they will sometimes confirm what they have been taught in other classes and sometimes question it. Native speakers will give them their "tests" in real-world situations: can they understand? be understood? understand the cultural context? They will often teach the teacher, bringing examples of their experiences in the community into classroom discussions and reflective exercises.

  • Each student will work 28 hours in the community, learning Spanish, gaining cultural knowledge, better understanding the realities of immigrants and immigration in the US, connecting with a Champaign-Urbana that exists beyond campus, providing a positive image of UIUC to the youth and adults within Champaign-Urbana, and growing in unexpected and exciting ways. This sustained and substantial experiential learning also helps them develop pre-professional skills they can highlight on their resumes and in interviews.

  • From January to April, our community partners will receive a total of more than 3,360 hours of our student's time, energy, language skills and other abilities. Students will perform tasks that relieve real pressure points for these organizations.

  • Conversely, and just as importantly, our community partners provide a total of more than 3, 360 hours of mentoring and educational opportunities to over 120 UIUC Spanish students.

  • Nearly $63,000 represents the economic impact of the students' work with the community partners, calculating the current per hour rate of $18.50 as the "value" of professional volunteers. (Thanks to Julie Healy at BTW for providing me with this perspective!)

My sincere hope is that these numbers do not just represent growth for the Spanish & Illinois program, but that instead they reflect a truly mutually beneficial relationship between students (who learn and grow) and our community partner organizations (who can utilize students' work to better achieve their missions).