Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Opportunity for College Seniors

by Ann Abbott

One of my former students, Sandra Mazuera, was involved in this program so I feel very recommending it to all my students and all my students to this selective program. See message below:

Hi Professor Abbott,
Thank you again for your help spreading the word about the MATCH Corps this fall!

To refresh your memory, The MATCH Corps is a highly selective one-year fellowship program that allows recent grads to tutor inner-city kids in Boston for a year. After the year, fellows usually go on to top grad schools, work in public policy, or become full-time teachers in inner city schools.
I just wanted to check in and see if you have any students or recent grads you’d like to nominate for the 2012-2013 cohort. We are still accepting applications! Please feel free to pass the following blurb along to any students who might be interested. Students are welcome to contact me directly for more information.

Happy holidays!
Colin Bottles, Director of Recruiting
MATCH Charter Public School
The MATCH Corps, a highly selective one-year urban education fellowship, is looking for top-notch seniors who are interested in joining next year’s Corps. To apply, just fill out this form:
The MATCH Corps program began in 2004 and is the first of its kind in the nation. The Corps is a group of 140 top recent college graduates who work one-on-one with six to eight MATCH High School, Middle School, or Elementary School students each day for an entire academic year. Corps members live together in apartments nearby the Middle School and Elementary School, and in a dorm on the top floor of the High School. All three schools are open-admission Charter Public Schools in Boston, MA. This full-time service year program is designed to fully close the academic Achievement Gap between minority students and their non-minority peers, one student at a time. Each Corps member works to guarantee the academic success of MATCH students while building personal relationships. Corps members also undertake secondary projects such as serving as teaching assistants, and may also coach teams and power extracurricular programs.
We also offer an optional teacher training program called MATCH Teacher Residency. In MTR, Corps members receive additional training on the weekends with the aim of becoming unusually effective first year teachers in high-poverty schools. Graduates of MTR go on to teach at some of the most highly regarded charter schools in the country and tend to outperform other rookie teachers in the classroom.
To learn more about MATCH, check out this ABC News special:
For more information, have a look at our website:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Student Spotlight: James Peters

by Ann Abbott

So many of my students know that they want to live and work abroad, but they're not sure exactly how to go about it. There are many paths, of course, and several of the "Student Spotlight" entries on this blog highlight former students who are now living abroad or incorporating Spanish into their lives in the United States.

The Peace Corps, of course, is a well-known way to live and work abroad for a few years. That is the path that James Peters has chosen.

James was in my course on social entrepreneurship last year. James really stood out to me because he was full of ideas, willing to participate and because of his dedication to the Boy Scout troop he worked with in the community. So I was delighted to receive an e-mail from him recently recounting his adventures in Luque, Paraguay. I loved the insights into the local language and indigenous culture. I asked James if I could share his information with others on my blog, and this was his reply:

Hola! Yes I would love to stay connected with you and any class you have. If you have any students interested in working abroad/Peace Corps/ Teaching English in South America- please do not hesitate to give them my email. 

Hasta Luego from Paraguay!!!!

James Peters
Peace Corps Volunteer Paraguay 2011
University of Illinois UIUC 2011
Eagle Scout 2007
President and Founder of Pi Lambda Omicron

Below is James' first e-mail describing his adjustments and assignment. I hope that it will inspire someone to take the step of contacting James or even to join the Peace Corps. What an adventure! I cannot wait to see how James' experiences and perspectives evolve over his two years in Paraguay.

Finally traveled into an internet cafe about 15km from my community. I hope everything is well at home in america. The past few weeks have been quite hectic and actually a bit intense. I guess I´ll start with before Thanksgiving because it was pretty memorable and a good place to begin my thought process. 4 dyas before turkey day, I went on what is called my site visit. I got a taste of where I would live and what I will be doing.

I travleled alone to a town called Luque by bus. From there I met my contact, which I will work with for the next 2 years. His name is Blas and he has a larger than life personality (also a huge guy). He met me in Luque as well as my host father who traveled from the barrio to downtown Luque to see that I got there safe and show me around. First, Luque is a tale of 2 distinct cities. Luque itself has around 30k population and is spilt into 2 very different parts. Downtown Luque reminds me of an old rundown industrial center from somewhere that looks geographically like Arizona. Luque´s epicenter (i think thats the translation) is a big park that street vendors and people hang out and sell stuff. It is pretty intense city because of the hyper population, which is concentrated in the downtown district (1km by 1km). That half of city is very gritty and commercial with tons of pollution and trash. On other side, there is a massive church, the municipality, and the soccer stadium (the team of Luqueno plays there). This half of the city is very nice, even from american standards. Large apartment complexes line the streets along with green vines and treetop canopies. This area has gym´s, fast food restaurants, and party centers (will explain later). I received a quick tour of Luque from my host dad and Blas then headed toward our barrio (neighborhood, sorry its difficult to explain things sometimes in English).

 My new barrio is called Yká´a Caranday (pronounced, oookaaauuuaaa Karanduuah). The barrio is also a tale of two distinctly different sectors of the population. My street is paved (slate rocks) and has rows of upper class houses (satellites, cars, garages, very chuchi (spanish for yupi). My house is definitely very nice and is going to be very easy transition- living with the host family. Off of my main road in the barrio, there is a small unpaved path that leads (about .5km) to government housing projects (3rd world ghettos). This area is truly eye opening- even if I tried to describe it now, it would difficult to tell you all how these people live. Needless to say I was humbled and decided I would try to assist that community in what little ways I could (note this is a different area, that I am technically not allowed to help with because it is not my official assignment). Either way, my new host family was great- made sure I was comfortable and well fed (I will live with a man (50ish, and 2 women who are sisters- 60s) . My host dad is hilarious and very handy around the house and he was quick to show me how to do things like install a ceeling fan and fix the pipes in the bathroom. Its tough to describe my role in the community but as I see it now, it will involve a few things- Teaching environmental conservation (recycling, trash management), English, and Geography in Escuela Basica 446 Sañ Jose (middle school). The school is about 1km walk from my house, so it is very close and right inbetween the nice areas in the barrio and the gritty trash ridden parts. i will also run a youth group called Verde Corazon (green heart) that focuses on trash managemnent in the dirtier parts.

Basically I did a few things to get myself in the door of the community and demonstrate how I can help. I went to the school and introduced myself to the director (principal) as well as met some of the kids who were trying to figure out how to work some old computers that were given to the school by the government (another story for another day). Afterwards, I returned to my house and build a 2 tablon (bed) garden growing simple veggies with a compost pit. Now, as many of you know, I am no expert in gardens or compost pits, but it is important for my credibility to show people how easy it is to grow and maintain ´self sustainable practices´ like gardens. So I grow veggies and throw all of my trash (yes that includes toilet paper because you cant flush tp here) in the compost pit. Trash is the #1 problem in my new hood and I have to first show them how I can manage it myself. So moving on, my visit was fun and very informative. I also have the option to go to a city called Aregua to work with ecotourism department with my contact Blas whenever I want (Aregua is a beautiful city tucked in the mountains, very green and has a lake and a beach to swim in). Aregua is about 15minutes away by bus. I am very excited to work in Aregua and with the people there because they are really hard working and its straight up gorgeous.

So I left my site on Thanksgiving and went to the Ambassador´s house. The american ambassador is a nice, well spoken man, who lives in an enormous compound with tennis courts, pools, and 50 maids. It was awesome to step back onto ´´Merican soil and enjoy some lavish living. I watched a little of the football game, which was refreshing to see and ate a ton of food. I also swam in the pool and tried to play tennis. It was a great evening with very influential people and most importantly, mericans. haha. That night was great, but life was about to get pretty weird after that.

I woke up the next day and went to class as usual in Guambare. In the middle of a lecture explaining the differences between personakuerañdive and personakuerañdi (with peoples and for peoples, weird translation), one of my friends Vanessa (girl i traveled with a lot to go visit volunteers) stood up and said simply- ´¨Im done, I cant do this anymore.¨ And she left. She was was back in San Francisco the next day. Its really weird to think about it because of how easy it is to actually leave and return home, yet how powerful it affected the entire group. In 1 week we all leave and go to our sites and that was kinda weighing over all of our heads....when Monday rolled around.

I woke up Monday morning, rolled out of bed and was enjoying my mate (hot green tea that usually burns the living hell out of my lips). My host mom rolls in the room and says casually, ¨Vos companero se murio¨... That translates very cleanly to..... your friend died. I spilled the mate on my pants, which scortched an area I care not to describe, and sputterd ¨Que?¨ (what?). She replied that a volunteer in Paraguay had died. I quickly walked to Mason´s house (friend in Peace >Corps that lives nextdoor) and it was on TV- a girl who lived in the Caazapa (central paraguay) died in a car accident. It made the front page of the Paraguayan news papers that day from Asuncion to Encarnacion. It was such a big deal I think because of Peace Corps presence in paraguay, which has been here since 1967. So i didnt know her and she was in a different sector (economic development), but it hits home when 1 of 200 volunteers dies, which is also extremely rare occurence in the Peace corps.

So stuff was pretty hectic down here, and it is also interesting because I am sure none of you all heard about a death in Peace Corps because of how obscure that is. I have definitely done some self reflecting and decided that I am truly happy here, and I want to live in Paraguay for 2 years. It has been a tough training, but I am ready to begin helping out in any way I can.

Friday I move to Luque and get to party in Asuncion for the weekend so I plan on finding a tennis court and a beer that is darker than Brahma light (less than 1$ for 40oz, you do the math, but absolute garbage tasting). I hope everyone had a great thankgiving, I will also have internet and a phone come next friday. More info to come- Sorry again for the spelling errors but I cannot help it on this computer.

Hasta Luego, Jajotopaata (see ya lata in Guarani)


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Creating Infrastructures for Latino Mental Health: Spanish Community Service Learning's Role

by Ann Abbott

I just received my copy of Creating Infrastructures for Latino Mental Health (Springer), edited by Lydia Buki and Lissette Piedra.  I'm very proud to have a chapter in this book that not only defines the problems surrounding Latinos' access to mental health services but also makes concrete policy and organizational recommendations to address the need. (My chapter describes why and how human service agencies can contact their nearest college Spanish program to begin a mutually beneficial community service learning partnership.)

Our university's Inside Illinois also profiled the editors--two professors on our campus--and the impetus behind the book. Congratulations to Lissette and Lydia for putting forth a guidebook that outlines the issues and possible solutions!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Student Spotlight: Laura Woodward

by Ann Abbott

It is always such a pleasure for me to hear from former students. I especially like hearing about their professional aspirations and growth--whether they include Spanish or not.

Laura Woodward's message (below) should be of interest to current Spanish students for at least two reasons:

1. She has identified an educational program (Masters in International Disaster Psychology at the University of Denver) and career path that is unusual but that could actually fit many of my students interests, experiences and goals.

2. Her message models many good things about how to contact a former professor and ask for a letter of recommendation. First, her "luck" in finding work in a restaurant immediately reminded me of her sense of humor. (Each student has a unique personality, and believe it or not, we almost always notice that.) She reminded me specifically of the course, the semester and the community work that she did in my class. I need those reminders! Finally, the attached photograph clinched everything. I have had many students named Laura, but I immediately remembered many details about this Laura when I saw her face again. And what a great picture! It probably is taken from the travels she mentions.

Read Laura's message below. Have you identified a graduate program that could work for you? Do you need a letter of recommendation? Do you need to remind your professor about the work you did for them?

"Hola Ann!

"Soy Laura, fui tu estudiante hace un ano. My Spanish is a bit rusty. Luckily, with a Psych Degree, I got the pleasure of working in a restaurant upon graduation, and the kitchen staff was great about letting me practice with them. In fact, I was their "gringa preferida."

"I took your Community Service Learning class in the Spring of 2010. I have always valued volunteerism and I wanted to continue improving my Spanish after my semester in Costa Rica. I volunteered as a tutor at Booker T. Washington and worked with the graduate students in the Social Work Department finding participants for their group therapy and watching the children during the therapy sessions.

"After taking a year off and doing some traveling, I have found what I think to be the ideal Master's Program for me. It integrates my Bachelors in Psychology and love of experiencing new cultures and people. I am applying for a Masters in International Disaster Psychology at the University of Denver. It actually demands that I travel! I am hoping that you would be willing to write me a letter of recommendation based on your experience with me as a volunteer in the Spanish speaking community of Urbana-Champaign.

"I am a visual person, so I attached a picture of myself to help you better remember. I hope you feel you have an adequate memory and impression of me to write me this letter, but I certainly understand if you do not. That was part of the risk I took in taking a year off before grad school, but I am so glad I did because I feel like this program is perfect for me. Please let me know if you are willing to write this letter and I will respond with more information."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Student Reflection

by Jacqui Kukulski

“Mira directo.”

“¿Está tomando algún medicina?”

“¿Está casada?”

I’ve been working at Frances Nelson Health Center for roughly three months at 7.5 hours a week.  When I first started I was only on the phones, and occasionally translating at the front desk.  They had me shadow the translators in the room so I could learn how to translate for the doctors and learn the medical terminology in Spanish.  When November came, I was still following the translators around, like a lost puppy.  I only had the freedom to go to the front desk and translate there or answer the phones without them having to be near me.  If I was ever in a room I certainly wanted them there.  I didn’t have the confidence in my Spanish or my medical terms and if I was ever translating for a patient I was glad that there was another translator there to help out when the patient or doctor said something that I understood but couldn’t translate effectively (or didn’t understand in the case of the patient).

All of that changed on Friday, my last day there for the semester.  There were two Spanish speaking patients.  One for the normal doctor and one for the eye doctor.  They were both going to be seen at the exact same time, and both of them needed a translator.  I was going to follow the other translator into the exam room with her as I have for the past three months.  The CNA looked at the other translator, hurt that she wasn’t going to have someone help her with the Spanish.  Seeing this and knowing that it was only an eye exam, something that I have been to several times and knew the general procedures, I offered her my help.  After all it was only an eye exam; there shouldn’t be anything crazy going on that I wouldn’t be able to translate.

I followed her into the exam room and the patient was very nice.  He understood that I wasn’t fluent in Spanish.  Both the CNA and the patient were patient with me as I translated various directions.  After a while we switched to the eye doctor’s exam room and I continued to translate there.  The eye doctor was calm and patient as well.  As I explained to the patient about eye drops that would dilate his pupils, something crazy happened.  Because this information was so familiar to me, I simply just understood what it was that I had to tell him.  There was no need for me to think hard about translating a word I had heard only once or never before (in that case you translate in a roundabout fashion, you explain what the word means without using the actual word.).

When I explained it to the patient, I was in the zone.  I was thinking in Spanish.  I was speaking in Spanish.  But, more importantly, the patient understood me.  Afterwards, the doctor asked me where I learned my Spanish.  Everybody is always surprised when I tell them that I learned my Spanish in school.  I then go on to explain that I studied in Spain for a few weeks and that seems to make more sense to them.

The patient had to wait for 15 minutes for the eye drops to work, so I went back to the phones and talked with the other translator.  After a while, I came back and started talking to the patient.  He asked if I was married and we discussed the problems in Mexico.  We went back into the exam room and finished the exam and I walked him back to the front desk.  The whole time I was in the zone though.  I got very confident after translating for this patient.  He was really nice and helped me feel at ease.

I’ve talked with the other volunteer at the clinic who looks more of a Mediterranean descent than I do and he often gets people assuming he knows more Spanish than he does.  I look more of a northern European descent so I always surprise people when I start speaking Spanish.  I feel that this helps me out when I’m translating because the patients are no longer expecting me to know every single word in Spanish and have a little more patience with me than they would otherwise.  I have also found that translating for men is easier.  Which seems odd.  They always seem more willing to help me and have more patience than the women.  I often start translating for a woman but then they’ll look to the other translator the second I start having a bit of trouble.

With my new-found confidence, we had another situation arise in the clinic on Friday.  The translator and the other volunteer were going to a room and I was sitting by the phones.  We got a page for another translator to a room and I showed up.  I was expecting another translator to come and hoping one would come, but of the three translators that worked there, one was home sick and the other was off for the day.  So when the doctor was ready to go into the room, it was just me by myself.  I thought of telling the doctor that I was going to try my hardest but I might have to go get another translator at some point, but the opportunity never really arose to tell her.  So I  jumped in.

It was crazy.  The second I translated something the doctor said, the woman started ranting about something in Spanish.  Luckily her son was there with her and would help me understand what his mother was saying when she started ranting.  I found that the most difficult part of this was knowing the right words to say in English.  Translating what the doctor was saying was pretty simple.  I knew most of the words and those I wasn’t completely sure of I was able to explain in a roundabout fashion.  When the patient explained her symptoms I understood in Spanish what she was trying to say, maybe it was because she was using motions as well.  Although I understood what was being said in Spanish, I understood it in my head in Spanish and not in English.  But I worked through it and at the end of the exam I felt confident that everybody understood what was going on.

At one point during the exam everybody was talking at once.  The doctor was talking in English to me.  The patient and her son were trying to explain something to me in Spanish.  I don’t know if they realized that I was trying to help them understand one another, but having all of them talk to me at once was not helpful.  Even if they were all speaking the same language I wouldn’t have known what they all were saying.  At one point I thought I heard the doctor say we needed another translator.  I would have gladly gotten the other translator, but then they all stopped talking and I figured out what they had been saying.

At the end of the day, I was excited that I had finally translated on my own, but it was nerve racking.  The eye patient was calmer and I had more time to think.  The regular patient was not nearly as calm.  Most patients for regular exams tend to be less calm.  Maybe it’s because the doctors all feel rushed to get through their patients or maybe it’s because their problems are more life threatening or important in their eyes.  Either way, next time (I’m returning next semester) I’ll do my best to remain calmer and think clearer.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Student Reflection

by Jacqui Kukulski

-Quiero una cita.

-¿Para qué?

This is part of the conversation that I often have with patients over the phone.  We get many calls everyday all for the same complaint: “I want an appointment” (which really isn’t a complaint or symptom of anything). On our outgoing message we have the usual request for information: name, birthday, phone number and the reason for the call.  I guess you could say that we’re getting all of those, but the reason isn’t always specific.  This then starts a phone call game of tag between the translators and the patient trying to get all the pertinent information as well as the reason why they’re calling, ie their symptoms.  It gets even more interesting when you can’t even make out the word for their symptom.

I once had a woman explain her symptoms to me, but she kept talking.  I tried my hardest to understand everything she said.  I continually asked questions to make sure that I understood what she was telling me.  I didn’t understand her completely.  After a while she asked if there was another translator who she could speak to.  I said sure.  She hung up on me.  There wasn’t really another available translator for her to talk to, but I found her an appointment anyways for the symptoms that I did understand.  I didn’t want to call her back because she had just yelled at me.  I called her back anyways, the second I said that I had an appointment for her, her attitude changed.  She was no longer a complaining woman upset that she didn’t have an appointment, but she was so grateful and nice.  She thanked me profusely and we went on our merry ways.

This has happened often in answering phones.  They don’t always get mad and yell at me, but there are times when things get difficult and I don’t have another translator there to back me up.  But it’s actually better this way, because without the crutch of the actual translator, I’m forced to work through my Spanish and find out a way to communicate with the patients in a way that we both understand.

What’s more, is that simply finding someone an appointment can make their day.  The way that woman’s attitude change can attest for that.  After she hung up on me and I was talking with a nurse to get her an appointment, I mentioned it to them, because after all, I was a bit upset by it.  I had been trying to understand her and she simply got upset.  But the nurse and several CNAs who overheard all agree: at least I was trying to understand what she was saying.  At least I didn’t just guess and make things up. 

This comes back to one of my earlier posts, where you just have to take things with a grain of salt and become a stronger person.  If I had let that woman truly get to me, I could have given up and stopped trying to help translate.  But instead you have to see beyond the interaction and understand that that woman was probably trying to get an appointment for weeks, was probably in a lot of pain and is probably under a lot of stress from her job, family or something else.  It’s not always easy to see through to this point, but when you do, the compassion comes back and a sharp word no longer has the sting that it did before.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Student Reflection

by Jacqui Kukulski

That wasn’t the earth opening up and swallowing me up was it? I certainly hope not, but sometimes it looks like that happens to some people. I was helping translate for a man the other day and he was supposed to have a follow up appointment a long time ago, but he understood that he would get a letter in the mail telling him when his next appointment was. He had many problems and there was a bit of confusion but what was the saddest part was there wouldn’t have been any confusion if he hadn’t been forgotten. I haven’t been at Frances Nelson long enough to witness a lot of this, but the feeling I get is that this is all too common.

Patients don’t always get appointments. The schedule fills up faster than the patients can get an appointment. Patients miss appointments or never make a follow up. It was suggested to this man that he needs to take responsibility for himself, and make sure he gets the appointments he needs. But what about his side of it? He doesn’t speak English. He probably hasn’t grown up with an American’s mentality of going to the doctor. We explain so often that you need to see an eye doctor and a dentist too, but as I was growing up, we always went. We never missed a year. It’s hard for me to understand why you wouldn’t go to a dentist, but that’s because I grew up knowing that you go to the dentist at least once a year. This patient probably immigrated here and we should be happy that he got himself to a doctor in the first place.

The saddest story I’ve heard is about a woman who was having a bad reaction to a medication, and no one caught that it was from the medication for over two years. No one, save a very compassionate translator. Without this translator, this woman wouldn’t have gotten an appointment, and no one would have been alerted to the fact that the reaction could be from some medication.

I only deal with the Spanish speaking patients, so I don’t know if these instances occur with the English speaking patients. Also, I can only assume that this is the same that happens at every clinic. There must people who simply fall through the cracks, I hope it’s not true. But now, this raises another question: why are they falling through the cracks? Is it because they don’t have insurance? Is it because they speak Spanish? Is it because the doctors aren’t taking the time to listen to their patients?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I also don’t think there’s a simple answer. There never seems to be a simple answer to something so complicated. When I first started working at Frances Nelson, I saw doctors as someone who was nice, helped people and prescribed medicine. Now, having seen the system from another side, the non-patient side, I realize that healthcare needs to be so much more than that. It needs to take care of the whole person and it needs to be the one person or group of people that still watch out for you.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Advice from Former Spanish CSL Student: Internships and Volunteering in Latin America

by Ann Abbott

I just heard from one of my former students, Sarah Moauro, who has built a wonderful international life for herself in Latin America. I know that so many of my current students would love to do exactly what Sarah is doing, and she actually has some really good, specific advice. If you want to contact Sarah, just let me know (!

Here's Sarah's message:

Hi Ann,

I hope you're doing well and that it's not too cold yet in Illinois! I was just thinking that if you have any students coming to/studying in Buenos Aires or Latin America in general this year, here are a couple of ideas you could let them know about.

Over the last couple of months, I have been volunteering at an NGO called Fundacion Pro Vivienda Social. They do microfinance programs to help communities improve their housing and neighborhoods by developing infrastructure. They're almost always looking for more interns, helping with research or with communications, so it is something that could be useful for a lot of backgrounds (economics, political science, business, marketing are the most common). They usually ask interns to commit to 3 months.

If you have students coming to Buenos Aires that are interested in journalism (as well as marketing/event planning at times), I have friends that work for a English-speaking newspaper down here called The Argentina Independent. They always have a set of interns and the paper gets involved in some pretty interesting things (as well as have a fun community).

Also, for anyone coming to Latin America to study or volunteer, I have a friend who works for a scholarship fund that gives out two scholarships of $500 every month. It's called LIVfund and is pretty new - it's something that I think would interest people that take your courses.

Anyways, I just wanted to say hello and share these with you - from personal experiences, I know that finding good places to volunteer and intern without paying to do it isn't as easy as it should be.

There are more things you can do around here that involve basic volunteering (teaching English in a poorer neighborhood a couple hours a week, weekend activities for groups like Un Techo para mi Pais that is similar to Habitat for Humanity), but I wanted to send you things that were more internship/work experience related. Feel free to put people in touch with me if anyone is interested in any of them.

All the best,


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Champaign-Urbana: Volunteer Opportunity on Saturday

by Ann Abbott

Please consider volunteering and using your Spanish at this event:

This Saturday, November 12 from 10:00AM till 2:00PM there is a community fair at Lincoln Square in Urbana. Volunteers are needed. The name of the event is called "A community fair to connect working families with local services in East-Central Illinois," and participants will share information on where to obtain free medicare, dental services, access to healthy food, and so on. 

WHEN: November 12, 10:00AM - 2:00PM
WHERE: Lincoln Square, 201 Lincoln Square, Urbana

Please contact Guadalupe at:
Phone: 217-344-8455

Monday, November 7, 2011

"You Have the Right to Remain Silent": Spanish Community Service Learning and Our Legal Rights

by Ann Abbott

What would you do if the police knocked on your door?

My first instinct would be to open it. 

But I would fight that instinct. I would ask them through the closed door what they wanted. Until I figured out the situation, I would give no information beyond my name. 

If the conversation continued, I would ask them if they had a warrant. If they said no, I would stop communicating. If they said yes, I would ask them to slip it under the door for me to verify. Those are  my rights.

I am a US citizen. White. I live in a very good neighborhood. I was raised to see the police as my ally. Truly, I don't think I have any reason to fear them. I want to be a good citizen, and I want to help the police create a safe community for all of us.

But it is our right to remain silent--and not just after they have arrested you, despite all the chatty people you see on Law & Order.

I teach this in my "Spanish in the Community" course. It's in Lección 14 ("¿Qué se debe hacer durante una redada?"), and students tell me that they had no idea what their rights were. Most also think it's something they don't have to worry about. They've probably never found themselves on the wrong side of the law and cannot imagine ever finding themselves in that situation. Ever.

Of course it can happen to anyone. But the larger lesson for my students is that the community members we serve need to know this information--citizens, legal residents, documented immigrants and undocumented immigrants. These rights are for all of us.

And this morning, I read a case from the community that illustrates exactly why I teach this information to my students"

"Esta manana oficiales de immigracion entraron a uno de los barrios donde viven muchos Latinos en Champaign y detuvieron a una persona que estaba saliendo de su casa. Le preguntaron su nombre y pidieron ID. Cuando el hombre entro a su casa por su ID ellos fueron tras el, le hicieron mas preguntas y al final lo arrestaron. POR FAVOR cuando alguien asi se acerque no tienen obligacion de responder a mas preguntas. Solo deben dar su nombre. Si los oficiales no tienen una orden de arresto con su nombre, firmada por un juez y con su direccion no tienen derecho de entrar a su casa pero si ustedes les dejan la puerta abierta ellos entran. No les abran la puerta. Estos oficiales aparentemente estaban buscando a alguien mas pero se llevaron arrestada a esta persona. Cuidense."

Comunidades also has an activity that asks students to explore and question our concept of "success" (pp. 94-95). One item involves community-police relations: "Un grupo de padres que colabora con la policía local con la intención de disminuir la criminalidad en su vecindario." Students almost always say that, yes, that is an example of successful people. I then point out that although the intention may be noble, in some communities collaborating with the police may be seen as a betrayal. We need to understand that our lived reality with the police--which informs our perspective on them--may not be the same as everyone else's. Some immigrants may bring with them the notion that police are corrupt and not to be trusted. (Well, some people in the US might feel the same way, in fact.) Some people may not be able to distinguish the difference between the police and ICE officials. "Secure Communities" has created much mistrust between immigrant communities and local police. 

I am certainly not against the police and their role in public safety. However, I do want my students to ask themselves and others if a man leaving his home, as in the example above, has anything to do with public safety. What crime was he committing? Why was it necessary to arrest him? Was that a good use of police time and effort? Did that make our community safer in any way? I also want students to understand more about ICE, Secure Communities and other policies that determine police relations with our local communities. 

This may be a controversial post. Do you have an opinion to share? Do you know what your rights are? How much do you know about ICE, Secure Communities and crime rates among immigrants? What are the facts versus the media hype? Please leave a comment if you have a perspective to share!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Languages for Specific Purposes: One Look at the Role of Community Service Learning in LSP

by Ann Abbott

I was very happy to receive my copy of Specialised Languages in the Global Village: A Multi-Perspective Approach (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011) in the mail today. The book focuses on languages for specific purposes (LSP) and was edited by Carmen Pérez-Llantada and Maida Watson.

My contribution was Chapter Two "Social Entrepreneurship and Community Service Learning: Building Sustainable Non-profits and Language Programs" (p. 27-45). 

You can see in the table of contents that the chapters cover a wide range of issues. I would especially recommend the chapter by Stefanie Stadler for anyone who is working on intercultural competence (and aren't we all). There are also very insightful pieces by several of my CIBER colleagues who have become my friends: Christine Uber Grosse, Maida Watson and Mary Risner.

The book is described in this way: "The status of LSP (Languages for Specialised Purposes) in the contemporary socio-cultural context is an ongoing central issue of scholarly debate. Specialised languages in the global village examines the impact of globalisation on intercultural communication within specialised communities of practice. The contributions of the volume provide linguistically and pedagogically-informed discussion on modes of communication practice in professional and institutional domains, frames of social action and the construction of professional identities. The contributors also address issues of languages and social entrepreneurship, and the acquisition and development of linguistic/cultural competence in foreign languages for specialised purposes. The edition is a valuable reading for researchers in LSP, specialists in the fields of discourse analysis, sociolinguistics and scholars in the area of rhetoric and composition. It is also of interest for professional translators, language editors and language advisors in the fields of specialised academic/professional communication. LSP instructors and foreign language teachers will also find informed guidelines and useful pedagogical proposals for classroom implementation."

I first met Maida (Florida International University) when I went on the study trip she leads in Spain for instructors of business Spanish. Soon after that professional development trip, Maida and I co-authored an article about experiential learning and professional development programs: A Business Language Faculty Development Program with Experiential Learning,” in Global Business Languages 11 (2006): 3-21. Since then we continue to meet at each year's CIBER Business Languages Conference (this year it will be at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill), and I went to Miami last winter to speak at the conference they organize for K-12 teachers of business languages.

In short, languages for specific purposes is an up and coming field within linguistics and has a place, I would argue, in cultural studies. The Modern Language Journal will soon come out with a special LSP issue. (My colleague, Darcy Lear, will have an article in it about the intersections between LSP and CSL.) It is the subject of many conference presentations, not just at CIBER's business languages conference. And the field is perhaps most developed already in Europe. I am happy, then, to have a chapter in this book that gathers many helpful studies and provides solid bibliographies for further research.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Spanish Lesson Plan with News Items

by Ann Abbott

It's the time of the semester when we all need to interject a little variety in our classes to keep students alert and engaged.

Today I'll be doing parts of Lección 15 ¨¿Son noticias para nosotros?¨ from Comunidades. I gathered a few articles from today's La Raza  (a Spanish-language newspaper based in Chicago). I copied them, divided them in half and printed them out. In class, I'll mix them out and hand each student a piece of paper. Students will read their half of the news item and then search among their classmates to find the person who has the other half. They'll sit down together to fill in the complete picture. You can print out the articles I chose and do this activity with your students, too. (I have enough for 14 students. If you have more, just choose a few more articles or pair students up.)

Afterwards, I'll have students do the following:

  • Circulate among their classmates again, telling about their article and asking if the other students already knew about this news item or not. (Conclusion: usually the "Latino news" are completely unknown to most students.)
  • Ask them to identify why they think these particular news items are pertinent to their work in the community or connected to information we have studied in class.
  • Get out their smart phones or laptops and browse La Raza for a few minutes. Then go to La Opinion (a Los Angeles based Spanish-language newspaper) to compare the two perspectives.
  • To conclude, I will ask students to answer our lesson's initial question: ¿Son noticias para nosotros?
I hope that you can use these articles with your students. If you do, let me know how it goes. I find that it is both a fun and informative lesson.

Student Reflection

by Jacqui Kukulski

Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?  Well, Carmen Sandiego contracted Chagas disease in her exploits over in Central Americas, lost her health benefits and her amazing salary so she’s at Frances Nelson Health Center.  That’s quite unfortunate for Carmen Sandiego.  

Luckily, that’s not the case for the people who get treated at Frances Nelson.  I haven’t heard of a single case of Chagas disease.  There’s honestly nothing amusing about working at Frances Nelson, but to work there you need to be lighthearted but with eons of compassion. 

Frances Nelson Health Center is a governmentally subsidized clinic that provides healthcare for the uninsured (or self-pay) and for the bad insured (their insurance doesn’t help out much).  Every patient this clinic sees is on a pay scale based on their monthly salary and how many dependents are in the household.  Through this center patients are able to get appointments at Carle Hospital for specific procedures that the clinic can’t handle itself, and their pay scale stays.  I don’t know how you may pay your medical bills, but if you have ever seen a bill without any insurance, you’ll understand that this pay scale is the reason these people are able to get healthcare.

The pay scale certainly helps the patients out, but there would be no clinic if there was no one willing work there.  Every single employee there is a hero.  They may not be wearing camouflage and fighting to preserve our freedom.  They may not be secretly wearing spandex under their street clothes.  In fact their wearing scrubs, t-shirts, jeans, dress pants, and dress shirts.  From the girls at reception to the doctors to the triage lady to the people I don’t even know who work there, they’re all heroes.  These women who work here (there are about 4 men who work there), are some of the most amazing people I've met.  They are the embodiment of this clinic.  Recently the clinic has taken too many patients on and is no longer accepting new patients, but when a little girl with many medical problems coupled with Down syndrome showed up at the clinic, she became a patient.  This is only one example of their extreme compassion.  But there are also times when we have to turn patients away because they showed up too late for their appointment.

Working at Frances Nelson is rewarding yet difficult.  It’s difficult because you find out about everything that is wrong with the health care system and how people are being forgotten.  I have learned that people come from drastically different backgrounds and only want one thing: to see a doctor.  And, that is where it becomes rewarding.  For the Spanish speaking patients, I am one of four people who make up the keystone.  With out us translating, it would be weeks if not months before a Spanish speaking patient was seen, not to mention the doctors would have trouble figuring out what was wrong with them.  I may only answer phones at the moment and translate at the front desk, but at the end of the day, I know that without me, that patient might not have been seen.

While working at Francis Nelson, I have met and talked to people with drastically different backgrounds.  Of the Spanish speaking community, whom I work with most, there are immigrants, mothers fleeing their husbands, children who try to translate for their parents, teenagers who want to help out with the family and are giving up a college education and fathers who accompany their wife and children to their appointments.  Seeing all of these people has opened my eyes.  I have always read or heard about people like them.  I learned about them in my Spanish classes in high school, in history classes, on the news, but never have I actually experienced (knowingly) someone from a drastically different background than my own.

There is a student in my Spanish class this semester who is very knowledgeable about immigration laws and has a very strong opinion about them.  It wasn’t until a week ago I learned that his family is full of immigrants and have probably had to face similar hardships like the ones the patients are facing at the clinic.  After learning this, everything became real.  I could hear the emotion in his voice when he was talking about his family history.  It wasn’t just another story for the news; it was his life, just like it is the life of these patients.

After working in Frances Nelson for a few weeks and listening to this student I have learned to open my eyes to the world as it is.  My veil of ignorance is gone and that decrepit looking house down the street isn’t abandoned, that mother debating $1.09 for food isn’t just a penny pincher, that father sitting in the clinic with his kids isn’t just a father.  Everything is more.  That house is a home.  That debate for food is a debate between feeding her children and paying a water bill.  That father isn’t just a father, but a protector and the anchor that family needs to stay sane.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Student Spotlight: Carolyn (Carolina) Kloecker

by Ann Abbott

Carolina Kloecker is passionate about Spanish and service. She is a self-starter who came to my office just to introduce herself long before she actually took a class with me. And that "jump-in-there" attitude of hers (which many students can develop more in themselves) has taken her far.

As a UIUC student, Carolina studied abroad in Ecuador, did a Spanish & Illinois Summer Internship with ACCION Chicago, took "Spanish in the Community" and "Spanish & Entrepreneurship," worked in the Study Abroad Office and amped up their social media presence, and in general simply took advantage of many, many opportunities on campus to develop her language, leadership and service skills.

She was an ideal student. But she graduated in May 2011 and had to find her way in a tough job market. I think her current job and activities will be of interest to all Spanish students but especially those interested in teaching. You can visit her classroom blog, and you can read below to see how Carolina continues to use her passion for languages and cultures in her teaching.

"Hi there!

"I have been so very busy as a 1st Grade Dual Language (Bilingual) teacher here in Austin! I actually teach at Gattis Elementary in Round Rock, Texas, which is a suburb just north of Austin. After getting in to Texas Teaching Fellows in March, I moved down in June to start my summer institute and student teaching. I worked with a Pre-K class (also dual language) and absolutely loved it.

"I am having a blast, and I am especially excited about the expansion of the Dual Language model throughout bilingual education. My classroom is actually "Two-Way" Dual Language, meaning that I have both Spanish-speaking and English-speaking students in my class, and the English-speakers are learning Spanish while the Spanish-Speakers learn English, so both languages are equally valued. We alternate Spanish days and English days, but Language Arts is always in the child's native language (so I have to teach at least 2 separate lessons each day), Math is always in English, and Science and Social Studies are always in Spanish. My class is about 2/3 English speakers and 1/3 Spanish, so I have noticed that I have to use lots of goofy gestures and visuals especially when we are doing Science and Social Studies. In the morning on a Spanish day the English speakers walk in and say "awww man! It's a Spanish day." but then when we get to a read aloud or an activity in Spanish, they get so excited when they actually figure out what I'm saying. I have some wonderful students that are very attentive and they are really picking up a lot of vocabulary and understanding very quickly.

"Spanish in the Community and Spanish in Entrepreneurship obviously prepared me incredibly for the role of being a bilingual educator. I was taught to value Spanish, and I saw the reality in Illinois schools (much like in my hometown) where Spanish-speakers are separated and can occasionally be "pushed" to learn English (early-exit) without ever really learning "academic" Spanish. I hope that the dual language model will start to spread even further. It is already in several large districts in Texas and Washington state, as well as other places around the country. More about Dual Language is on the Gomez & Gomez (guys who came up with it) website: In their model, students will continue through dual language at least through 5th grade (there is no "exiting"), if not entirely through middle and high school. They are creating true bilingual citizens, because students will learn subjects in both languages rather than just doing things at school in English and at home in Spanish.

"I am so happy at my school, and I was so lucky to be able to get a job. I really think that I have a job because I speak Spanish, and because of my motivation to learn. That is what I try to tell my students and the parents of my students, that bilingualism (or multilingualism!) can be a huge asset and is one of the most rewarding things you can do with your life."

Carolina, you are a shining star and an example that all of our Spanish students can follow. Good luck!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Student Reflection: Jacqui Kukulski

by Jacqui Kukulski

Well, hello there.  It’s a bit into the first semester and I’ve been to my community partner several times.  I recently spent the summer in Spain working on my Spanish and all things Europe related.  A regular Spanish class for my Spanish (second) major didn’t fit into my schedule and I didn’t want to take a semester off of Spanish so I thought this class would work nicely.  And I’m ecstatic with my decision.  I’ve been learning Spanish since I was 13 years old and up until last June my Spanish was only mediocre.  I was terrified to speak, zoned out whenever someone talked to me for more than 30 seconds in Spanish and fell asleep reading it.  But I could write.  Boy, could I write.  But, that’s probably because I was able to look up all the words I couldn’t think of off the top of my head.  When I got back from Spain, I was pretty confident with my Spanish skills and took on quite an undertaking.  I started talking with Frances Nelson Health Center about volunteering with them this semester for my community partner.  In their blurb, it says only work here if your Spanish is very strong.  Maybe Spain boosted my confidence, maybe my Spanish really is pretty strong, but I got my work there. 

This first post was suggested to me to be about my experiences with Spanish and I feel that my decision to double major in Spanish is a story required of that suggestion.  When I was a junior in high school I had completed all four levels of Spanish that I needed to not only graduate high school, but also college (at least here at UIUC).  I had an open space in my schedule and I could fill it with a study hall, two photo classes, or Spanish AP.  To this day, I still can’t put my finger on what drove me to take Spanish AP.  I had cursed it all through high school, dreading the exam that I didn’t prepare for, not putting nearly as much importance on that class as I had my sciences or math.  In my senior year I applied for the Spanish language scholarship, the one requirement I didn’t like: I had to take at least one semester of Spanish in college.  I was not going to continue with it.   Registration came and went for U of I and I registered for Span 204, or Spanish grammar.  First semester came and went and I received an A in the class.  Second semester came and Spanish didn’t fit into my schedule.  I got sad.  I missed it.  How was that possible?  How could I miss a subject that I had loathed in high school?  I decided to minor in it and took two Spanish classes the next semester.
At this point I had discovered my love for Spanish.  My life would not be complete without it.  It had to stay in my life.  A minor would not be sufficient.  I worked through my schedule and discovered I could double major in it.  I came in with enough AP credits.  And then, I applied to study in Spain.  That was the key to making this work.  And then I went to Spain.

I like to compare learning Spanish to running a marathon.  I’ve never run a marathon so the comparison might be off, but they always say that when running in a marathon you hit a wall and you have to work past that wall in order to finish the race.  In terms of Spanish, that wall is the first “ah ha” moment when things start to click: the point when you stop translating in your head and you start thinking in Spanish.  My wall was when I took Spanish AP.  We practiced for the exam by writing 200 words in 10 minutes.  At first it was difficult, but by the end of the year, it was like breathing.

I was helping a friend yesterday with his Spanish homework, and someone else asked if I was fluent, because according to her, I sounded fluent.  I said no.  My friend with the Spanish homework asked me: Have you ever been to Spain? Yes.  How long were you there? Six weeks.  Did you speak Spanish the entire time? Yes.  My friend smiled at me.  That was sufficient enough to tell me that I am in fact fluent.  I still disagree; there are many words, phrases and idioms that I do not know.  But I know enough Spanish to order in a restaurant.

What is "Real" Community Service Learning Work?

by Ann Abbott

I think that the following e-mail thread will be of interest to students, instructors and community partners. It illustrates how we may have unaligned expectations about what constitutes "real" Spanish community service learning (CSL) work.

Human services workers know that paperwork and basic office tasks are routine but necessary parts of the job. Students, however, may not know or value that work. What do they expect to do in a human services office? What do they want to do? What does learning "look like" to them? These are all important yet difficult questions for CSL instructors who must design mutually beneficial partnerships.

E-mail exchange #1: Student to TA

                       He visto tus comentarios sobre [community partner] y mi frustracion sobre no mucho trabajo y que estoy haciendo tarea muchas veces.  Estoy de acuerdo que no es el punto de la clase, y quiero hablar contigo sobre otras opciones de hacer trabajo, quizas con ESL o algo similar. No se que exactamente hay que hacer. Y para responder sobre sus comentarios de quizas estoy detras en mis horas, voy a hacer las horas en los fines de semanas que vienen en un programa que [community partner] ofrece para los ninos. Gracias

E-mail exchange #2: TA to Student with cc to Course Supervisor (me)

Hola [Student]:

                Gracias por escribirme sobre tu community parnter. También le mando a la Profesora Abbott este mensaje.
                Me parece bien que vayas los sábados para hacer las horas. Sin embargo, como tu dices, tal vez no termines todas las horas porque durante la semana no hay mucho trabajo que hacer en [community partner].
                Creo que podrías ver otras oportunidades en el blog y también podrías ver si puedes hacer terminar las horas adicionales con otro community partner.
                Vamos a ver que sugiere la Profesora Abbott.
                Gracias por avisarnos.

E-mail exchange #3: Course Supervisor (me) to Student with cc to TA

                I just want to make sure what "no much trabajo" means. Some students do not value answering the phone and greeting clients as work, and it is. Just want to check that first.
                In addition to [TA's] suggestions, please make sure that you have talked with [community partner employees] about what you can do at [community partner] when there are slow times. I for one would love it if you could come up with information to post on their Facebook page. (If you can't post directly, send items to me.) See if you can come up with a short video for their website. Be creative!

E-mail exchange #4: Student to Course Supervisor (me)

Professor Abbott,
The more I think about it I guess I really do quite a bit of work. I am constantly answering phones and the door, which I realize alleviates a lot of the work from the other workers when they are with clients. I also do interact with a lot of the clients and do translations and such. Tomorrow when I go in I will talk with [community partner employee] about the facebook page and see what I can do. As I told [TA], I also plan on helping out more with their Saturday kids program which I imagine will be much more interactive. Thanks for getting back with me.

E-mail exchange #5: Course Supervisor (me) to Student
               I can't tell you how happy I am to read your message. Not only does your work alleviate the other workers, it is very important to the clients themselves to see a friendly face and be able to speak in Spanish to the person who responds to the door and telephone. Thank you for your work at [community partner]!
                [Community partner employee] probably won't have much ideas about Facebook, but you and I can talk about that if shedoesn't have other projects for you.
                May I post your messages on my blog? I would delete your name and [community partner's] name as well, of course. I just think it would be helpful for my readers to see what students think. I hope so, but if you say no, that's fine, too!

E-mail exchange #6: Student to Me
By all means, you are welcome to. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Spanish Community Service Learning and the Job Hunt

by Ann Abbott

I received an e-mail this morning from LinkedIn with links to two articles about career success that are, in my mind, indirectly linked to what we do with our students in Spanish community service learning (CSL).

1. "The Must-Have Leadership Skill" talks about the importance of emotional intelligence. I really feel like the the experience of doing community service learning plus creating activities that explicitly address seeing things from other people's perspectives contributes to students' emotional intelligence. In an interview and in job search materials, being able to demonstrate with examples that you were able to work successfully in a multilingual and multicultural environment and understand multiple perspectives should be positive indicators of future success. While students may examine multiple perspectives in other courses, our CSL courses ask them to put that into action.

2. "The Ten Worst Mistakes of First-Time Job Hunters" focuses on things that recent college graduates wish they would have done while in school. Learn Spanish should be top on the list! But CSL is an overlooked opportunity in the following items:

  • "I would have taken on a job or an internship in addition to my courseload." CSL work is a job! Our students have to work a minimum of 28 hours per semester, so it is an important part-time job for them. However, it's necessary that they think of it and treat it as such if they want to truly take advantage of its career-preparation opportunities
  • "I would have gotten more involved in career-relevant extracurricular activities." Again, CSL does this for them. Being involved in our community partners' day-to-day work and special events are career-relevant. Students can help community partners with event planning, internal and external communications, grant writing, building a social media presence and many other relevant career tasks.
  • "I would have kept better track of my achievements." Our students' reflective essays and exams are really a catalog of their achievements that they can later mine for relevant examples.
  • "I would have focused more on developing relevant skills." All our students work on customer service. And think of students who work with a particular student in an after school tutoring program: their "project" is to improve the student's academic achievement. With some smart "project management" thinking they can build a variety of tools to achieve and measure success as well as make recommendations for changes that can be implemented by next semester's tutor.

Darcy Lear and I co-wrote an article about how Business Spanish CSL students can be encouraged to "package" their Spanish CSL work in job search materials: "Marketing Business Languages: Teaching Students to Value and Promote Their Coursework." The article refers to several activities in Comunidades: Más allá del aula that explicitly walk students through the steps of transforming their academic CSL experiences into professional assets.

In short, academic CSL is much more than just job training. But it gives students a unique opportunity to prepare themselves for the competitive job market.