Posted January 29, 2018
Taking advantage of an option offered by the UW-River Falls modern language department, transfer student Ernesto De La Torre hoped to get involved in the Spanish program only for the sake of quickly gaining some additional course credits on his college transcript. However, after a short amount of time spent with the Spanish club last semester, he realized his foreign language skills were good for much more than just the automatic A’s allotted after placement testing.
“I decided I want to get involved,” De La Torre said. “I want to meet people. I didn’t know anybody here, so because I’m Mexican and fluent in Spanish, I thought maybe I could meet people that speak Spanish and like that culture, so I went to the Spanish club and I actually met a lot of really cool people, people that I hang out with now almost every day.”
Seeking to meet more students with intentions similar to De La Torre’s, the UWRF Spanish club was among dozens of other student organizations that were set up to answer questions and attract new members at last Wednesday’s Involvement Fair in the University Center.
Among all the people De La Torre has met in the club, he found a wide range of Spanish skill levels, which gave him the chance to not only meet people as a new transfer student, but also to help people with extra practice.
“There’s so many of them that speak Spanish even better than I do,” De La Torre said, “and there’s some that are just starting and want to get better, so I take every opportunity I can to help them with their pronunciations or vocab.”
This academic year has been a bit of an exception for the club because most of the people attending demonstrate a high level of skill with the language, according to Natalie Johnsen, who is in her third year of serving as president.
With an average attendance of 10-15 students at each meeting, the majority of students tend to be Spanish minors, according to Johnsen.
“The majors are more confident,” she said. “They feel like they don’t need to come. Spanish minors come because they want to practice their Spanish and get better at it.”
Regardless of whether they know Spanish, all students are welcome to come, Johnsen said, mentioning that some students occasionally come just for cultural aspects.
Though many of the activities the club engages in are focused on developing skills with the language, there are numerous other activities that are primarily cultural, according to faculty adviser Julie Kovacic.
“They play Scrabble in Spanish and they do Zumba and they’ll put up YouTube dance instruction videos,” Kovacic said. “They just try to pull from a lot of different directions to do something cultural and educational every single time we have a meeting.”
Despite her eagerness to be heavily involved the club, Kovacic’s role as a faculty adviser limits her level of engagement in club activities.
“Actually, the rules are that we’re supposed to be as hands-off as possible,” Kovacic said, “but they do so many fun things that I try to show up as often as I can, so I try salsa dancing, try what they’re eating or go to their movies. That’s my role – be their support, be there to answer questions, approve their budget, and all the administrative stuff.”
However, even when Kovacic is unable to attend club meetings or activities, her role as a professor allows her to hear about everything she missed.
“I give my students extra credit if they go to Spanish club meetings,” Kovacic said, “so if I don’t get to go to one, then they tell me what happened in class the next day.”
On occasions when students from her classes don’t attend the club, Kovacic relies on club officers to keep her well informed, mentioning a Facebook group chat on which she regularly receives messages from the officers, who use it to provide updates as well as share ideas.