Conversations with the Ambassador

Global Studies major helps promote UO’s Spanish Heritage Language Program

When she started at the UO, Isabelle Belanger (like many first year students) enrolled in a beginning language course. However, her Spanish teacher told her she was overqualified—at least when it came to speaking and listening. Belanger’s father is from Chile, and she grew up speaking Spanish.

Though her conversational skills were too advanced for the class, the Global Studies major from Portland says she still had plenty to learn about grammar, reading, writing, and other aspects of the language. Then she learned about the UO’s Spanish Heritage Language Program (SHL), an option that’s ideal for an increasing number of UO undergraduates.

SHL is designed for students with a personal, familial, or community connection to Spanish. For those who grew up in a home where Spanish is spoken, speak it regularly with family or community members, and are (to varying degrees) bilingual, the program is ideal. 

SHL students participate in language education geared toward their knowledge level, so they can learn and be challenged, but not overwhelmed. They also connect with other heritage language speakers and explore important cultural and historical issues. 

“It was the right fit for me,” Belanger recalls. “I found it more comfortable to learn with other heritage speakers who had backgrounds similar to mine. It’s perfect for students who are not as confident in reading and writing, but fluent in speaking and understanding Spanish. It also gives them opportunities to get their language credits.”

She liked the program so much, she started working to spread the word to other students who might benefit. As an SHL student ambassador, Belanger helps with advertising, speaks on panels, and talks with current and incoming UO students. The ambassadors also organize fun events like “Noche de Loteria,” an evening with food, hot chocolate, games, and prizes. 

Belanger says she’s met a lot of new students who (like her, not so long ago) didn’t know anything about program. There’s just something about a conversation with a peer who makes you feel welcome, she adds. 

Websites can be confusing. Faculty members (through no fault of their own) can be intimidating. But the student ambassadors offer their peers an easy way to get information and ask questions. Belanger plans to graduate next year, then hopes to join the Peace Corps and travel to Central or South America. 

“I’ve always been very interested in different cultures from around the world,” she says. 

“When people live in a bubble and remain isolated from different cultures, that cultivates hate and misunderstanding. It gets in the way of cooperation and empathy. Sharing different perspectives is what helps deter dangerous ignorance.”

—Ed Dorsch, BA ’94 (English, sociology), MA ’99 (journalism)

The Spanish Heritage Language Program is part of the UO’s Global Studies and Languages initiative, one of nine areas the university has identified as key opportunities where we have the resources, culture, and expertise to excel. Global Studies and the Spanish Heritage Language Program are both part of the UO’s College of Arts and Sciences and its School of Global Studies and Languages.