Speaking Spanish for the Community

“Me llamo Kelly. ¿Cuál es su nombre?”

“Soy Juan.”

“¿Juan, cómo está usted?”

“No tan bien.”

“Oh, lo siento, ¿qué pasó?

Junior Spanish and international studies double major Kelly Fuhs is not shy, but she is not forcefully bold either. Rather, she is calmly outgoing, and that trait has helped her use a second language in a meaningful way for a relatively new class. Complete strangers have become new friends to Fuhs as she has served others with Spanish outside of Hope’s campus.

Junior Kelly Fuhs at the Community Kitchen

Enrolled in “Spanish for the Community” and serving at the Community Kitchen Free Lunch program hosted by Community Action House at Hope-neighbor Western Theological Seminary, Fuhs recently introduced herself to a middle-aged gentleman named Juan and asked about his day. It was not going well, Juan said. Fuhs’ eyes and voice conveyed concern, and she gently asked Juan why, sliding easily into a chair next to him to begin a Spanish conversation with the Holland resident who was preparing to eat his lunch.  

Juan did most of the talking so Fuhs listened and listened. Often she would nod; occasionally she would interject. When the conversation began to wane, she asked Juan if she could pray for him.

,” he said.

Oh Dios, ayuda a Juan….” Fuhs started.

“Spanish for the Community” is a 300-level course created and offered by Dr. Berta Carrasco, assistant professor of Spanish, for its second time ever.  It gives students the opportunity to apply their Spanish skills in various interpersonal and organizational ways with Holland-area charitable organizations like the Community Kitchen, Community Action House, the Holland Free Health Clinic, and Holland Community Health Clinic. In doing so, students gain enhanced language ability, confidence and a sense of purpose.

“Basically, I came in thinking I was going to be serving food,” Fuhs explains. “But since there was a lot of volunteers to do that already, I help with translating menus and the code of conduct policies in Spanish. But most of the time, I just come in and talk to people and hear about their days and their lives and just kind of go from table to table listening to people.”

So, why is that meaningful for Fuhs?

“Every time I walk into this place, I’m welcomed,” says Fuhs, who hopes to work for a non-profit organization someday. “Everyone treats me like family and they’re like family as well. They all want to talk. Getting to sit down and hear about their lives and about their struggles and joys and just getting to pray with them and really have that small time to experience life with them, it’s an honor honestly. People just want to be heard. I didn’t come in here thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to save people.’ I have a lot to learn from them.”

Dr. Berta Carrasco

Carrasco created the class for students like Fuhs because she wanted to fill a gap. While there are plenty of Spanish offerings in literature and culture in the Hope curriculum, there was not a practical offering that engaged Hope students in the Holland community, which is 38% Latino. “Our courses are dynamic, but we needed a class that goes into the community,” the professor says.

Students spend the first five weeks of the semester in the classroom discussing (always in Spanish) what it means to serve, why they want to serve, how complicated and difficult it can be. They also learn about interpersonal communication styles in the Latino culture, how to be cognizant of direct vs indirect communication, such as how to “read” body language and vocal tones. Then, for the rest of the semester, for six hours a week, they speak Spanish in the community.

“Our students have worked for years on their Spanish,” the professor says, “and with this class, they can use it immediately outside the classroom. They have ways to use a tool they’ve worked really hard on right now for good use.”

“Their job is not writing a lot of academic papers but that doesn’t mean this class is not rigorous,” Carrasco says. “It’s rigorous in a different sense. This requires students to go outside of the box and be okay with being uncomfortable, be okay with mistakes and be okay with someone who is feeling great, and someone who is not.”

“I love taking literature classes and learning more about the technique of the language, but there’s something really special about being able to take a class to learn skills about how to communicate with people within the culture and then interact and actually do it,” Fuhs confirms.

Rebekah Rainwater, right, and a client of the Holland Free Clinic.

Senior classmate Rebekah Rainwater concurs. She is a Spanish major on a pre-physical therapy track and as such, she is grateful for learning how to succeed in intercultural communication, especially since she hopes to work in health-care settings with a wide range cultures, races and socioeconomic statuses.

“Working at the Holland Free Health Clinic for this class has showed me how to accommodate for those patients who do not speak English, who cannot read, and who have had little to no formal education,” Rainwater says.  “As a future health care provider, I will need to continue to practice the skills which I am developing now in order to successfully serve my patients.”

With those words, Carrasco knows her teaching objectives are being met. She wants her students to know that their language skills are useful now, not just some nebulous time out in the future and not just away from campus on a study abroad trip.

“Our students have worked for years on their Spanish,” the professor says, “and with this class, they can use it immediately outside the classroom. They have ways to use a tool they’ve worked really hard on right now for good use.”

Walk This Way To Challenge Borders


See this image here above. Maybe you’ve encountered it on your way through the first floor of DeWitt, or in the first floor rotunda of Martha Miller, or by the psychology department in Schaap. Maybe you’ve looked at it and thought, “That looks interesting.”

It is. Slow down.

See the image above. Maybe you glanced at it on your way into the dining areas of Cook and Phelps, or in the lobby of DePree and Jack Miller. Maybe it caught your eye by the circulation desk in Van Wylen Library, or just inside the front door of Kruizenga. Maybe you’ve looked at it and thought, “That must have something to say.”

It does. Look closer.

See the image above. It is at all of those nine locations, providing an atypical classroom through a QR code that will teach you. Maybe you’ve looked at it and thought, “That seems like a game changer.”

It can be. Stop.

Get out your phone, scan the code, and learn. The project, “Challenging Borders: Displaced People,” has much to teach you about those whose lives have experienced disruption and disorder due to immigration, climate change, the refugee crisis and mass incarceration. And the disciplines of art and English and science and psychology and communication all converged to do so, crossing interdisciplinary boundaries in order to challenge you about the ways you view borders — domestic or international — and the people who are affected by them.

The best way to take in the “Challenging Borders” project is actually do that: challenge borders by walking the project in its entirety. Traipse to every poster on campus, cross streets, open doors, enter rooms, search hallways, and you’ll feel measures of boundaries as you do.

Funded by a $16,000 Global Crossroads Initiative grant sponsored by the Great Lakes College Association (GLCA), of which Hope is a member, “Challenging Borders: Displaced People” is an interactive, 3-5 minute audio-visual diaspora in those campus locations listed above. Nine faculty/student collaborative projects were selected from across divisions to participate so when you scan each poster’s QR code located on its lower right corner, you’ll engage in interdisciplinary sensory and factual uploading.

“The days of us living in our disciplinary silos are over,” says Dr. Heidi Kraus, co-coordinator of the project. “This project is a great example of disciplines converging. We have people from chemistry, from art, from English, from psychology, from communication all talking together. We are breaking down borders even between our own disciplines with this project.”

The best way to take in the “Challenging Borders” project is actually do that: challenge borders by walking the project in its entirety. Traipse to every poster on campus, cross streets, open doors, enter rooms, search hallways, and you’ll feel measures of boundaries as you do. And it’s a good way to get in 2,481 steps on your day, too. It’s also a good way to encounter multiple perspectives on the complex issues of migration and displacement gripping our nation and world.

“When we thought of challenging borders, we were interested in the idea of movement and bringing a physicality to this,” explains Kraus. “We wanted the feel of borders and of crossing those and walking to spaces. So the idea of a physical diaspora came to fruition.”

“It is like an image in a kaleidoscope: each piece itself is beautiful, but when you look at all of them together, you feel how all of them create something new and even more beautiful.”

“After I saw all the projects, it surprised me how different all of them were but at the same time how all of them complemented each other,” says Dr. Berta Carrasco de Miguel, co-coordinator of the project. “It is like an image in a kaleidoscope: each piece itself is beautiful, but when you look at all of them together, you feel how all of them create something new and even more beautiful.”

You can start at any one of the nine buildings shown on the map above (and identified on a list below). Then think of tackling your walk across campus borders to every project as strolling in a circle, rather than a rectangle, and you’ll begin to feel encompassed and safe inside Hope’s finely groomed green areas and well-kept buildings, a fraught juxtaposition for the images of marginalization and disenfranchisement you’ll soon encounter. As you watch and hear each project depict those who have been displaced and excluded, a needed unease settles in and with it comes the most needed emotion of all: empathy.

So, slow down, look closer and stop to challenge borders, but know this: You won’t walk away the same.

“I hope the Hope community understands the complexity and importance of these topics and gets a feeling of closeness to the main characters of these videos,” adds Carrasco de Miguel.

If walking to every poster in one fell-swoop isn’t within your end-of-the-semester time budget, then take in one project at a time when you happen to be in each building. Slow down, look closer and stop to challenge borders, but know this: You won’t walk away the same.

  1. The Complexities of the Immigration Experience — Prof. Deb Van Duinen @ Jack H. Miller Center for the Musical Arts (Lobby)
  2. A Voice to Balance the Negative Rhetoric About Refugees — Prof. Jayson Dibble@ Martha Miller Center (First Floor Rotunda)
  3. What is in a Name? Hispanic or Latino? — Prof. Berta Carrasco de Miguel @ Kruizenga Art Museum (Entry Area)
  4. Finding Truth in Fiction — Prof. Susanna Childress @ DePree Art Center (Lobby)
  5. Walking Gregory’s Neighborhood — Prof. Tori Pelz @ DeWitt Center (North Hallway)
  6. It Takes a Village, But Will There Always Be One? — Prof. Joshua Kraut @ Phelps Hall (North Dining Entrance Area)
  7. What Would You Do? — Prof. Scott VanderStoep @ Cook Hall (South Dining Entrance Area)
  8. Fitting In: Our Quixotic Endeavors in a New Home — Prof. Tatevik Gyulamiryan @ Van Wylen Library (Circulation Desk Area)
  9. Climate Change and Global Displacement — Prof. Joanne Stewart @ Schaap Science Center (First Floor, Near Psychology Offices)