Blanca Flores, '13, applied to Spanish in the Community, a living-learning program, because she wanted to learn more about the challenges facing Richmond's Hispanic community. Through its community-based learning component, the course also helped Flores solidify her career goals.

Spanish in the Community, taught by Dr. Carlos Valencia, is an intermediate-level Latin American and Iberian studies class that helps students develop Spanish-language communication skills through the study of Hispanic immigrant literature, newspapers and films, and through participation in an outreach project in the local community.

Flores, who is of Mexican descent, says, "The class has definitely given me insight into some of the new challenges my community is facing, but also the actions they are taking to confront these challenges."

For her outreach project, Flores volunteers as a translator at CrossOver Health Center, a clinic that provides free health care for the uninsured population of Richmond. "It's really rewarding to be able to provide the comfort that the patient needs to effectively communicate their conditions to the doctors," she says.

Working at the clinic has also helped Flores, a biology major, decide to be a doctor.

On one occasion, Flores worked with an elderly patient who was very hesitant to tell the doctor what was wrong because she was afraid of mispronouncing the words or being misinterpreted. "She told me she was grateful to have someone who could speak Spanish by her side and help her express her needs," recounts Flores.

Students in Spanish in the Community are not just learning during their class and community involvement — they are also learning from each other. "We are very different in terms of backgrounds, but we get along very well and we embrace and learn from each others' cultural differences," says Flores.

In September, Flores and her classmates attended the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Public Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., where they engaged with national leaders.

Flores says that hearing Hispanic leaders in politics, business and education talk about the importance of dealing with issues affecting the Hispanic community — like unemployment, immigration and education — motivated her to become even more active in her community.  

"One day I hope to become as strong a leader as the ones that were represented at the conference," says Flores.