By Anna Allen, '16
Gwen Setterberg, ’15, has always had a passion for languages. She came to Richmond knowing she wanted to study Spanish, and the Latin American, Latino, and Iberian Studies major will graduate fluent in both Spanish and Portuguese. She will be able to put her language skills to use right away, having recently received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to work in Argentina.
Through the program, Setterberg will be placed in a classroom to assist local English teachers while also serving as a cultural ambassador for the U.S.
Instead of teaching Spanish to native English speakers, Setterberg will be refining the English of native Spanish speakers — something new for her. “I’m not going to be teaching English from scratch. I’ll be teaching students who are already advanced in English, so that’ll be a new experience, but one that I’m well prepared for,” she says. “As I started looking back on my experiences and realizing how well I’ve been set up for this — that really all I had to do [when applying] was tell my story and my relationship with UR, and how things that have naturally happened as a part of my involvement here set me up really well for the Fulbright.”
Finding the right path was more of beautiful mess than a detailed plan, according to Setterberg. “It’s stuff you don’t think about,” she says, “It’s coming to college, knowing that I wanted to study Spanish and by a fluke getting to know [LALIS professor] Ted Peebles.” Peebles mentored Setterberg in LALIS classes and the teaching program for Spanish drill, where she had the opportunity to teach her peers. Another chance encounter happened when Setterberg enrolled in the Children's Health Sophomore Scholars in Residence course with Rick Mayes, who first suggested she apply for the Fulbright fellowship when he learned of her interest in teaching language abroad after graduation.
Not only has Setterberg been well immersed in teaching language, she has also experienced language learning and teaching out in the community as an interpreter at CrossOver Ministries, a free health clinic, and working in elementary schools as an ESL assistant. “It was such a growing experience in getting my feet into the ESL world, and understanding that from an insider experience,” she says. The experience also expanded her studies and led her to include more classes about education systems and best practices while applying that to her interest in ESL, Spanish speaking students, and immigrant students. Setterberg’s time working as an ESL assistant also added perspective to her research project on Hispanic/Latino student success and parent involvement that she conducted primarily through a Spanish-speaking church in Minnesota.
“Getting to know these kids sparked my desire to see them succeed, because I love them so much. I became friends with them first, and then became friends with their parents, and knew I felt at home,” says Setterberg.
For Setterberg, having language study as part of her life has been not only culturally enriching, but also personally fulfilling. With her Fulbright grant, she will be delving into a completely new aspect of language study, instruction, and learning. “I get to mold language, enjoy it, and play with it like art, like Play-Doh,” she says. "Because of my confidence in my God, I am also confident that this new adventure will become a key turning point in my life. I know this experience is going to mold me for the better.”
Gwen Setterberg talks about study abroad in Rio de Janeiro