My name is Val Kaskovich and I'm a senior here at UIUC double-majoring in Spanish and Economics. I'm very excited to be contributing to the Spanish & Illinois blog this semester! I have been studying for about ten years. As my interest in the language grew throughout high school, my decision to continue Spanish studies at the University of Illinois was truly a "no-brainer." During the Spring 2010 semester, I spent five life-changing months studying abroad in Bilbao, Spain. It was there that I fell in love with Basque and Spanish culture, achieved a level of fluency, and (best of all) learned a few new recipes! I'm now a travel addict and love to use my language skills wherever I can. Outside of Spain, I have been exposed to other cultures and dialects in Mexico, Argentina, and Cuba. Next I'd like to conquer Peru, Ecuador or Costa Rica!
The thing I love most about language studies is that you never stop learning -- there is always a new word or expression or grammatical peculiarity to discover. Additionally, studying Spanish has opened my eyes to other cultures and belief systems as well as sparked my interest in other languages. I am now studying both German and Catalan, and would love to tackle Portuguese in the future. On campus, Mi Pueblo Spanish conversation groups and International Illini events have allowed me to meet others who have an interest in the language and/or who are of Spanish-speaking backgrounds.
This semester I will be volunteering with the S.O.A.R. program (Student Opportunities for After-School Resources) at Booker T. Washington Elementary School here in Champaign as part of the "Spanish in the Community" course. My project consists of volunteering with bilingual students with the ultimate goal of improving math and literacy skills. Many of these students are from Hispanic families and are challenged by language barriers in an educational setting. I have actually volunteered with S.O.A.R. in the past and am excited to continue working with the wonderful students and staff at both BTW and the S.O.A.R. program. My hope is that the students receive the encouragement and guidance needed to excel academically, while at the same time enjoying their time with student tutors and fellow classmates. Working one-on-one with a student is an incredibly rewarding experience. I look forward to building relationships while at the same time practicing my language and leadership skills in a way that directly benefits the students and the community. Check for updates on my experiences on this blog! For more information on S.O.A.R., click here: http://education.illinois.edu/smallurban/SOAR/index.html. ¡Hasta pronto!