Exploring Mexican Culture and the Spanish Language through GLN

Melissa VanSant, GLN Intern – Marketing & Outreach, interviewed participants in events that were recently organized within GLN’s Spanish program. This piece was edited by Krista Westerlund, Program Coordinator. GLN would like to sincerely thank Alejandro and all of our dedicated teachers for sharing our mission through inspired teaching.

This past March, Alejandro Gonzalez Ruiz, GLN Teaching Fellow, showed his enthusiasm for our mission by organizing special events at the Mexican Embassy designed to engage students outside the classroom through immersive discussions and exhibits. Alejandro, who teaches Spanish Nearly Native, invited any interested students from the Spanish Language program at The Global Language Network to apply their Spanish skills from class onto real-world interactions in culturally relevant ways. Students gained experience in the language and an understanding of Mexican heritage and politics, advancing many of them in their personal and professional pursuits.

The first event was an opportunity to meet with the Mexican Consul, Raphael Laveaga, as he spoke about political relations between the US and Mexico and the principle issues facing these nations. Laveaga also spoke of his role as Consul and hosted an open discussion for students to ask about bilateral relationships, immigration, trade, and the challenges facing modern diplomats.

The event was entirely in Spanish, allowing students to use the vocabulary and topics covered in class to engage with relevant issues. For many GLN students involved in government, the discussion aided their professional efforts in diplomacy while immersed in Spanish language and culture.

“We can have prejudices about other cultures because of the media and current politics. The discussion gave students more information to create their own opinions about Mexico”, stated Alejandro, GLN instructor and employee of the Mexican Consulate.

Amanda R.’s interests in US-Mexican politics prompted her to attend the event, helping her communicate more effectively with Hispanic Americans.

“In my graduate program I heard lots of ambassadors speak, but this was my first experience interacting with a consul about issues in my own country”, said GLN student Amanda.

Focusing on Mexico for her professional work, GLN student Leslie W. appreciated the opportunity to practice Spanish while gaining knowledge of critical issues facing Mexico. Leslie picked up on new vocabulary and valued the exposure to formal Spanish, supplementing the informal environment of the classroom she had grown accustomed to. Alejandro emphasizes this balance between formal learning and the activities in a classroom, where conversational mistakes can be overlooked.

Evaluating the importance of learning culture from native speakers in a formal setting, GLN student Benjamin B. said, “I enjoy the classroom a lot, don’t get me wrong! But mixing it up is just as vital as memorizing phrases and words. The consulate was a terrific visit, and the lead speaker was eager to get to know us.”

Alejandro organized a second event, a visit to the Mexican Cultural Institute (MCI) where he used to intern. MCI is a mansion with a network of galleries and exhibitions showcasing Spanish heritage and intercultural initiatives in the Washington, DC area. Alejandro led students on a tour through the different levels.

“It was a nice opportunity to share my culture and a great opportunity for my students to learn Spanish,” said Alejandro about leading a tour through his previous workplace.

The first floor hosts a variety of exhibits detailing the artistic conversations between the US and Mexico. On the second floor, students walked through a museum of the Mexican Embassy. On their way to the third floor, students traversed a staircase surrounded by vibrant murals. One mural depicts the Tehuantepec Festival, where men and women dance while holding an array of flowers and preparing traditional festival meals.

The Global Language Network continues to encourage these immersive experiences. Recently, a Spanish Frequent Flyer Class joined Teaching Fellow Leopoldo to attend a Spanish film screening at the Spanish Film Festival.

“It was a nice break from the usual class structure and a way to practice my language learning differently,” said Erin Sutherland, one of the students who viewed the screening.

In cooperation with outstanding volunteer teachers, The Global Language Network looks forward to organizing more opportunities for its students to use their skills outside the classroom. We offer an immersive environment and approach that makes our classrooms into comfortable and interactive spaces for learning. We also welcome enthusiastic exploration of cultures by our classes.

GLN’s philosophy is that language and culture are intertwined and that the path to truly understanding a culture is through language.

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