Memorizing vocabulary words and conjugations are just the beginning for some students learning Spanish. The real test comes when they have to apply their language and understanding of Hispanic culture and issues out in the city of Richmond.

Spanish in the Community builds on traditional language instruction by requiring students to spend 20 hours each semester working with local organizations that support the Richmond Hispanic community. The program is taught by Carlos Valencia, director of community-based learning for the Latin American and Iberian Studies Department.

From medical clinics and schools to community resource providers, students can chose partner organizations that match both their language comfort level, and their academic interests beyond Spanish.

“For students who want to get involved and take some risks, to use their Spanish and put themselves forward, they can have a lot of interaction with real Spanish speakers,” Valencia says. “They have more connection to the class.”

The community service component also serves as a window to issues students might otherwise only read about in a textbook or discuss in the classroom. “I thought immersing myself in the community, being able to practice and learn more about immigrants and Hispanics in our community, would be really interesting,” says Blair Curcie, ’14, who took Spanish in the Community this past spring.

While the course has definite value for students, the community partners also have much to gain from their relationship with the University.

“What’s really important about this program is not only do our students benefit, but the community partners benefit,” Valencia says. “We have to keep fostering those relationships in order to make sure that our students and the community partners get what they need.”

Watch the video to see what Valencia, Curcie, and other students have to say about their experience in Spanish in the Community.