Embracing Spanish culture

La Comunidad learning community helps students ease into the Spanish language

Embracing Spanish culture

By Marie Dunn-Harris

Stacey Dickerson is anxiously awaiting her last semester to begin at BGSU. Instead of beginning classes on campus, she’ll be studying abroad in Spain for a second time. Studying overseas is not an easy decision to make, but being in the Spanish learning community, La Comunidad, has helped her to better prepare.

“It’s a place where you can speak without feeling judged or feeling out of place,” Dickerson said. “Classroom learning is great, but to be able to speak Spanish to people on a regular basis without feeling like I was going to mess up was key for me.”

There are 26 students from 13 different majors in La Comunidad this year. Director Carmen Alvarez has been with the program for four years and has been involved in helping it grow.

“The purpose of the community is to bring an environment where the students feel confident talking in a foreign language with each other,” she said.

BGSU has more than 15 Learning Communities with special interests, helping students to ease into the transition from high school to college. Students also have a strong sense of belonging, which leads to a better connection to the University, increasing their chances of staying and graduating.

"Students in learning communities really get to experience all of what makes BGSU an exceptional place to learn. Each of our communities offer amazing and unique cultural experiences - La Comunidad is no exception," said Jodi Devine, director of Residential Communities.

Dickerson, who worked as a Residence Hall Advisor, was asked to be the RA for La Comunidad because of her minor in Spanish.

“By living in the community, many of us are in the same Spanish classes and we’re able to help each other and learn more than some of our other classmates. It’s just so helpful,” she said.

Dickerson was able to study in Spain last summer because she was a Spanish minor. She enjoyed the experience and language so much that she decided to make Spanish her major. She is returning to Spain in the fall with 11 of her La Comunidad residents.

“It was the best experience of my entire life,” she said. “Being immersed in a language that you love is just amazing. It was life changing and I can’t imagine where I would be if I hadn’t made the decision to study abroad.”

Residents in La Comunidad also do volunteer work off campus.

“We do community service and several events throughout the year with La Conexion, which is a non-profit Wood County organization,” said Alvarez.

Dickerson enjoys her time with La Conexion, where she has made valuable connections.

“I’ve been lucky enough to tutor the children whose parents take English classes,” she said. “Their parents can’t help them with English homework because of the language barrier.”

La Comunidad also hosts movie nights, game nights and monthly cultural dinners called Cena Con Amigos (dinner with friends), which are Dickerson’s favorite.

“Everyone has their own separate majors but there’s just something about a gathering with a big meal that brings everyone closer,” she said. “We’re free to speak Spanish and it gives us a chance to experience different foods and get to know each other.”

La Comunidad is part of the Department of Romance and Classical Studies and works closely with the Latino Student Union. Although many students who reside within the community are directly affiliated with the Spanish department at BGSU, it is not a requirement to be a Spanish major or minor.

“The students all want to either learn more about the culture or they have an interest in and want to practice their Spanish,” Alvarez said.

Students return to La Comunidad year after year. In May, the community will have its first full graduating class comprised of students who all started together their first year at BGSU.

As for Dickerson, she plans to apply for the Fulbright Scholar Program and hopes to teach English in a Spanish-speaking country.