Thursday, September 30, 2010

Journalism Internship Abroad

by Ann Abbott

A few weeks ago I had a very nice visit with a representative from Americas Journalism Training, a group that organizes journalism internships in Buenos Aires, Argentina for college students and recent grads.  It sounds like a wonderful opportunity and a wonderful way to build a resume and a portfolio.  Read the AJT newsletter and check out the work of a recent University of Illinois graduate, Elaine Tannous.

Even if you're not planning to have a career in journalism, I still think that an internship of this type is very helpful. All employers want to hire someone who is an effective communicator, self-starter (stories don't always land in your lap; journalists often have to go out and find them), creative and capable of meeting deadlines.  If you can do all of that while living in a different country, that's even more impressive.

What do you want from your study abroad experience? To learn some Spanish but still play it safe? Really immerse yourself in the language and culture?  Take cheap flights each weekend to as many different countries as possible?  Shop?  Be honest, because immersion and professional development (like internships) don't happen to you, you have to make them happen.  And you can make that happen in almost any study abroad program, but you must be intentional about it.

Student Reflection: Allison Kutzki

by Allison Kutzki

Hola! My name is Allison Kutzki and I am a junior studying to be a high school Spanish teacher. My experiences so far at the University of Illinois have been some of the most enriching of my life. Two years ago at this time, I was completely lost as to what I wanted to do for a living. As I continued to take Spanish classes, I began to realize how passionate I was about the language and the teaching of it. If it was not for the wonderful teachers, professors and experiences that I have had such as tutoring, I may not have found my calling in life. My most current opportunity that I have been given is through Spanish 232 and I am currently working at Leal Elementary School in Urbana. Being that I want to teach high school and have thus far only worked with students of that age, my first grade class at Leal has been an eye opener and given me new perspective on not only teaching but the Latino community near campus as well. I have worked there three times so far, and every Thursday morning is nothing but a joy for me. 

If there is one thing that I have learned through my Spanish studies is that in order to advance your language skills it is crucial that you practice communicating with native speakers. One of the greatest things about working with young children is that they are in no way judgmental of your speaking ability. If I need help with the meaning of a word, they are thrilled to help me. In this way, working at Leal has become a two way street of learning. I am gaining knowledge from them just as much as they are from me. It has also been gratifying for me to be able to effectively communicate and interact with children who speak a different language and who come from a background different than that of my own. Being part of an educational environment such as this is an incredibly rewarding experience and has helped me to appreciate the character of young children.

As a Spanish major, I plan on studying in Granada, Spain in the spring. While I have at times had my doubts and fears about being able to effectively communicate with native speakers on a daily basis, I believe the experiences that I will have throughout the semester at Leal Elementary school will help make this transition much easier. I am ecstatic to have the chance to practice my Spanish in such a comfortable environment before I step into a completely foreign country where certain people may not be so friendly about the mistakes I make. I am so excited to see what the rest of the semester has to offer me as I believe I am both improving my language and teaching skills; which is all I could ever ask for from a course here at U of I.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Languages and Cultures: how a university Spanish department and the local Refugee Center can support each other

by Ann Abbott

The University of Illinois' annual Campus Charitable Fund Drive is underway. All the charitable organizations in the portfolio are worthy recipients of our giving.  However, I just sent the message below to my colleagues within the Department of Spanish, Italian & Portuguese to point out the connection between our mission as a department and that of the Refugee Center (officially, the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center).  Any UI employee can contribute to the fund drive, and anyone at all can send a check directly to the Refugee Center at any time.  (Their address is available on their website.)

Dear SIP colleagues,

As you consider your choices for the Campus Charitable Fund Drive, I would like to call your attention to the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECIRMAC), also known as "the Refugee Center."  They are the only Illinois organization of this type outside of Chicago, and they provide myriad services to all refugees, asylees and immigrants.  For instance, in the first few months of this year they assisted in the resettlement of new families from, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, China, Vietnam, Syria and Liberia.  Furthermore, an alumnus from our Spanish BAT program, Guadalupe Abreu, is the sole Spanish-speaking counselor at ECIRMAC.

Many of our Spanish community service learning students work at ECIRMAC and learn not just about Spanish but also about global patterns of human migration, on-the-ground realities for our local immigrants and the impact of policies.  I especially remember the story of one of our students who was working in the office when an immigrant who had arrived from the Congo (originally from another African country) recounted the story of his torture while a counselor filled out his asylum request.  This took place in the midst of debates about the United States' use of torture in the war on terror.  As you can imagine, this was a very important learning moment for all the students in the course.  At the links below, you can see other students' reflections on what they have learned at ECIRMAC:

Summary at semester's end
Small cultural impositions create huge problems for immigrants (in Spanish)

If you would like to give to ECIRMAC in the Campus Charitable Fund Drive, you can give to the United Way of Champaign County ( and *designate* that your money go to the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assitance Center (ECIRMAC).

Thank you for considering this!


Friday, September 10, 2010

Lesson Plan About Latin American Film Festival

by Ann Abbott

I'm very excited about the 2010 Latin American Film Festival put on by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. I won't be able to see them all because of family duties, but it seems to me as if they are all good.

I created a series of activities around the Film Festival's poster, and I think that it went very well with both of my Business Spanish sections today. Feel free to use the activities with your classes, tweaking them to fit your own course.

1. Ask your partner to answer these questions then discuss the answers. [In my class, the average was 4 for both questions.]

  • On a scale of 1-5, how much do you like el cine?
  • On a scale of 1-5, how much do you like Spanish?
2. [Pass out a copy of the film festival's poster and schedule to each group.] Now look at this poster and discuss the film festival, the individual films and other related topics with your partner.

3. Take out your planners or your phones and open your calendar. Compare your schedule with your partner's and choose what movie you will go to see with each other. Do not make plans at a time for which you have another obligation! [At this point students will ask, "Do we really have to go?" I told them, "Make your plans and then we'll talk about that."]

4. Now, write your appointment with your classmate in your planner or type it into your phone's calendar. Muy bien.

5. Quiz.

  • 1. What movie will you see and when?
  • 2. Why did you choose that movie and time?
  • 3. Why did we do this activity in a Business Spanish class?
6. Hand in your quizzes, change partners, and compare your answers for #3. Now share your answers with the class.  Answers included:
  • In business, you have to coordinate schedules and plan meetings.
  • Everyone needs to have balance in their lives: work and fun.
  • To practice our Spanish.
  • The movies show you about Latin American and Spanish cultures, which is important when you do international business.
  • It gives you something to talk about with your business colleagues and clients (whether they're from the Hispanic world or not!).
  • That then shows that you are knowledgeable about the Spanish-speaking world, its cultures, its art, etc. 
7. Finally, how many of you plan to actually go to the Film Festival? [In my class, only about 1/4 of the students raised their hands.] Okay, so in activity #1 the majority of you expressed a lot of interest in both cinema and Spanish. With your partner, explain why are so few of you going to go to the Film Festival if it combines those two interests.

Students talked a lot and were very engaged with the topic. They had to solve a problem using real information from their own lives and then understand why what they just did was important to their learning.

I hope the activities go well with your students, too. Be sure to leave a comment and let me know how it goes!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Student Spotlight: Lindsey Meyers' Year of Service in Quito, Ecuador

by Ann Abbott

I know that many of my students wonder what they will do after graduation. They want to do something meaningful, and they long to continue their international experiences.

Lindsey Meyers found a solution that is meaningful, productive and allows her to continue perfecting her Spanish: spending a year working with The Working Boys Center in Quito, Ecuador.

"Two Miles High" is the name of Lindsey's blog, and after just two and a half weeks in Ecuador, she has already documented the work and the "feel" of her experience so far.

Students, I encourage you to follow Lindsey's blog, see what she learns along her journey, and consider how this might be an opportunity for you.  A year of service is a positive trend among students. It fills the "gap year" between high school and college and/or between undergrad and grad school.  You continue your learning, but you also develop valuable skills (including language proficiency, intercultural competency, global knowledge, etc.) that graduate programs and employers value.

I look forward to more stunning pictures and insightful commentary from Lindsey on her blog, "Two Miles High."

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Student Reflection: Katie Dudek

by Katie Dudek

Embarking on Another Journey

Hola! My name is Katie Dudek, and I am a senior majoring in both Sociology and Spanish.  As I have been introducing myself to my classmates this week, it has really hit me that I am in fact a senior.  I don’t want to sound cliché, but the last three years I have spent here at the University of Illinois have really flown by.  I have enjoyed every minute I have spent here, and feel that I have really taken advantage of all the wonderful opportunities that I have been presented with.  I am very excited to about the newest opportunity that I have been offered.  Through SPAN 232, I have the chance to volunteer at Booker T. Washington Elementary School and help Spanish-speaking students.  As I hope to become certified as a teacher after I graduate, I am thrilled to be spending my Wednesday afternoons there.

I cannot wait to be around native Spanish-speakers once again.  This past spring, I spent my semester in Granada, Spain.  I really do not think that I have ever learned more in a semester.  Not only did I absorb everything that was being taught in my Spanish-intensive classes, but I also learned a lot through spending time with the natives of Granada, especially my host mom (next to me in the picture).  Angeles is an 80 year-old firecracker.  She goes to aerobics classes three days a week, is personal friends with almost every street vendor and storeowner on Calle de Obispo Hurtado (the street her apartment is located on), and loves watching very dramatic telenovelas on Canal Sur.  I will never forget how each night as we were eating dinner, we would wait in anticipation for the theme song to Arrayán to start playing.  I learned so much from her.   She taught me about the foods we were eating, the importance of Semana Santa (Holy Week), the intense rivalry between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, and so much more.  We developed a very close relationship all while speaking in Spanish.  That was our common bond.

I am ecstatic to be able to communicate and build more relationships through the Spanish language.  Choosing to work at Booker T. Washington is something that I am really looking forward to.  Not only do I want to improve my Spanish, but also love working with children.  The past few summers I have been a camp counselor in Dubuque, Iowa, so whenever I am back in Champaign I find myself missing interaction with children.  I also need to switch up my silly band collection, so that is something to look forward to as well.  I have an orientation at the school next Tuesday, and I will hopefully be able to start soon after that.  I cannot wait to tell you all about my volunteer experience this semester!  Just like Spain, it will be another journey from which I will have plenty of stories to tell!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Student Reflection: Charlotte Piwowar

A new group of honors students will blog this semester about their experiences in the "Spanish in the Community," It is always fascinating to me to see how so many students can have similar experiences yet take away very different things because of their previous knowledge and experiences as well as the support the classroom discussions give to their reflective processes.  I hope that you will enjoy reading this semester's cohort of student bloggers and even learn something from them.
Ann Abbott

by Charlotte Piwowar

Before going abroad, my Spanish left a lot to be desired.  I had taken three years in high school, as well as classes my first three semesters here at Illinois.  As an International Studies major I was required to reach a “proficient” level, but, feeling like I wasn’t progressing much, I decided to devote my time to other classes required for my major and minor after completing the necessary language coursework.  A full year then went by in the time between that last Spanish class and when I finally went to study abroad for the spring semester of my junior year.  I had never really had much experience with Spanish outside the classroom, and so hearing native speakers babbling away when I first arrived in Quito, Ecuador back in January—even at the relatively slow speed at which Ecuadorians speak compared to Spanish speakers in other parts of the world—was an overload. Even after one short week, though, I noticed an improvement.  Taking classes in Spanish, living with an Ecuadorian family, and just conducting basic, everyday tasks in Spanish was tricky at first, but each day I learned new words, understood grammar points more clearly, and was able to speak more rapidly.  Slowly but surely, my confidence and abilities were improving.  I was understanding more, being understood more effortlessly, and making Ecuadorian friends.  At the same time though, I could feel my time in this Spanish-speaking world also slowly but surely slipping away from me as each day gone by meant one day closer to returning to the U.S.

I had anticipated that my desire to keep speaking, hearing, learning, and practicing Spanish would be huge upon returning to the U.S. after those five months.  So when registration rolled around in April, like many other students in the class, I signed up for Spanish in the Community to keep my skills from going rusty.  It was pretty difficult to settle on just one group from all of the interesting choices to work with, but for the community aspect of this class I signed up to work this semester at Champaign Central High School—and I could not be more excited!  I have spent time with high school students in the past as a writing tutor and have discovered that working with this age group is something I really enjoy.  So to be able to combine that with the opportunity to practice Spanish (even if I will not be speaking Spanish all of the time) is something that I am really looking forward to.
Learning a new language has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.  I feel like a whole new world of culture and opportunities has been opened to me—both abroad and here in the United States.  However, it is a process that is really never complete.  Even in English, there are always new words and phrases to learn.  Being in Ecuador for five months obviously helped immensely in improving my skills, but they are still very far from perfect.  I do continue to practice Spanish on my own by reading books and listening to the news, but my main goal now is to practice listening and speaking to keep my confidence up so as to continue to learn and improve (especially with slang!).  I’m not sure what I’ll be doing once I graduate in May, but I would love to use my Spanish skills—and I know that I’ll be going back to travel through more of Latin America one day—and so to be able to continue to understand others and use Spanish practically is my main motive for taking this course right now.  Even though it will only be a few hours each week, every little bit helps, and I’m sure that it will a very fun and enjoyable experience…and who knows what more it could lead to.  Can’t wait to begin!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Volunteer Opportunities in Latin America

by Ann Abbott

Our students of Spanish are always interested in international opportunities. They want to build their resume, improve their language skills and feel a part of the culture.

When they ask me if I know of anything in Latin America I usually say, "Go. Ask. Make something happen yourself."

So I wanted to share the information I received from a student from my "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" course last semester:

"I found an organization that I am really excited about! It's called Otra Cosa and I will be volunteering in Huanchaco, Peru for 2.5 months through it."

My student found this opportunity through this website that lists free/low-cost volunteer opportunities in Latin America. I don't know any of these programs, so I cannot vouch for their viability. But it's a good place to begin your research.