Daniel Hoeft, '12, is in Guayaquil, Ecuador, this summer, spending his days as an accounting intern and his evenings as the guest of an Ecuadorian family — communicating exclusively in Spanish, at home and at work. But that’s nothing new to Hoeft, who was a member of the Spanish in the Community program during his sophomore year.

This yearlong Living-Learning program challenges students to engage in the city of Richmond’s Latino/Hispanic community. In class, students study the Latin American and Spanish immigrant experience through newspapers, films, and literature, and hear from guest lecturers who are prominent members of the community. All coursework is in Spanish.

Students also volunteer for at least 20 hours as part of a service-learning project of their choice — Hoeft tutored a local kindergarten student who spoke only Spanish — and live together in Lakeview Hall.

“I was excited about the prospect of living with people who shared my interest in Spanish,” he says, “[while] serving in the Hispanic Richmond community and enhancing my knowledge of the language through more immersive, experiential learning.”

Hoeft traces his passion for learning languages to his childhood in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. “Going to school with students from Cuba, Paraguay, China, and Sri Lanka offered me infinite opportunities to explore new customs and gain new insights,” he says. These friends “…inspired me to pursue connecting to people around the world through languages.”

He spent some time studying Mandarin Chinese, but discovered Spanish as his real passion.

In high school, while working at a local steakhouse, Hoeft’s Spanish skills helped him befriend a number of Hispanic immigrant co-workers. He helped translate for them, earning their respect and support, which in turn helped him get a promotion at the restaurant.

Hoeft struggled with his new friendships due to his opinion that immigrant workers represented a drain on the economy. “I had been inculcated almost exclusively with the idea that the flood of Hispanic immigrants harms the United States and its citizens,” he says.

He found evidence to refute those ideas in Spanish in the Community. Reading Jorge Ramos’ book “La Otra Cara de America,” or “The Other Face of America,” opened his eyes to the net contribution of Hispanic immigrants to U.S. culture, economy, and society — benefits that actually outweigh any resources they deplete, he says.

The book, complemented by other coursework, reshaped Hoeft’s views. “The knowledge and insights I gained have allowed me to embrace and support legal Hispanic immigration,” he says. “I am also much more sensitive to the issues and difficulties that immigrants face.”

This balanced view, Hoeft says, will be necessary in his career in accounting. He is majoring in both accounting and Latin American and Iberian studies, with a concentration in international business.

After his internship wraps up and Hoeft returns to campus in the fall, he will take on a unique role as the resident assistant for the next cohort of Spanish in the Community residents in Lakeview Hall. He is eager to share the course experience with a new community, helping to lead its members as they encounter and debate the issues and experiences surrounding immigration.