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.