Alumni Stories

Gustavo Arámbula ’10

Gustavo Arámbula ’10 at pyrimid

Hello, my name is Gustavo Arámbula Jr., and, yes, I am a native Spanish speaker. I may have been raised speaking Spanish, but it wasn’t until I became part of Grinnell’s Spanish department that I started appreciating and perfecting my Spanish language skills. Choosing to become a Spanish major at Grinnell College has been key in developing my reading, writing, and interpersonal skills (which in turn has allowed me to advance in my multifaceted career). Throughout my career, I have been able to connect what I am doing now in my classroom with the skills I acquired at Grinnell College. 
I use Spanish every day in my classroom. I use it to build rapport with my kiddos. I also use Spanish to communicate with the parents of my students when I call home to give feedback on their student’s progress in class. I also use my Spanish speaking skills during the one-on-one meetings we lead every summer with the parents of our seniors as they prepare to embark on the college application process. If you do decide to become a Spanish major, you will be sure to be immersed in a rich and supportive community of scholars that loves español and the more than 400 million people who speak it.

Claire Branigan ’11

Claire Branigan ‘11

My time as a Spanish major at Grinnell has served me very well professionally and academically. Since graduating in 2011, my Spanish language skills have been invaluable to me as I have depended on them in two different jobs and now in my research as a PhD student in cultural anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Spanish major provided me with very sound preparation in both written and speaking skills. As a student at Grinnell, I studied abroad in Argentina and, because of my sound language preparation, was able to directly enroll in the University of Buenos Aires, volunteer, and make Argentinean friends (who I am still in close contact with). My first job after Grinnell was working as a case manager at an immigration law firm in Minneapolis, MN. The majority of the people that I worked with were monolingual Spanish speakers and my language skills ended up being one of my strongest, and most important, assets. In addition to immigration law, I also worked as a community organizer and educator in tenants’ rights, again, serving primarily Spanish-speaking people and families in Minneapolis. Currently, I am pursuing my doctorate degree and have begun to conduct long term field work in Argentina. In all of these cases I felt very confident in my Spanish language skills—a confidence that I owe to my excellent preparation at Grinnell and specifically the Spanish major.

Dree Collopy ’04

Dree Collopy ‘04 by Costa Rican volcanoes
Volcanoes, Costa Rica

Becoming a Spanish major at Grinnell is one of the most important decisions I have ever made. Although I worked very hard in high school to study Spanish and learn the language, it was not until my courses at Grinnell that I truly became able to read, write, comprehend, and speak Spanish at the level that I can today. To date, I am complimented on my Spanish skills by native speakers, and I owe that to Grinnell and the Spanish department. It is those skills that enabled me to follow my dream of working as an immigration lawyer, and more specifically, to become an expert in one of the most cutting-edge areas of U.S. asylum law - the Central American gang phenomenon. Today, because of my Spanish skills, I am able to represent young men, mothers, and children fleeing the region in fear for their lives. I am able to understand their stories and help them navigate the labyrinth of our U.S. asylum system. I am able to educate them about our laws and how their stories make them eligible for protection. While it is incredibly challenging work, it is also the most rewarding work, as I am able to make a difference in real people's lives every day. None of that would be possible without Spanish, and for me, Spanish fluency would not have been possible without Grinnell College.

Will Cummins ’10

Will Cummins and 5 friends biking in Barcelona
Biking in Barcelona, Spain

Not only did I thoroughly enjoy taking Spanish courses while I was a student at Grinnell, but the study of the language has benefitted me in countless ways after graduation. Each Spanish course at Grinnell, whether it was a study of grammar or literature, sharpened my attention to detail, improved my ability to deliver oral presentations of varying lengths, and developed my skill at mobilizing evidence and reason in support of a written argument. I have held three jobs since graduating from Grinnell, and each job placed a premium on these skills. In my day-to-day work, I regularly give presentations and craft written reports, and although I do not use Spanish daily, the major prepared me well for the type of work I am expected to complete.  There have also been practical benefits that I have gained through my knowledge of Spanish.  Given my comfort with the language, I have been sent on work trips to places like Colombia and I sometimes am expected to communicate in Spanish with students and families. I also appreciate how my study of Spanish at Grinnell, as well as my experience studying abroad, helped further my curiosity about other cultures, languages, and people. 

Sophie Neems ’16

Sophie Neems ’16

Actualmente, trabajo en una organización que se llama Brainfood y enseño clases de cocina a los estudiantes del colegio. Algunos de mis estudiantes no hablan inglés y, a causa de mis estudios en español, he podido comunicarme con ellos en su lengua para asegurar que entienden la información que necesitan sobre el programa. También, las experiencias que tuve en mis clases de español dirigiendo o enseñando una clase me han dado la habilidad y la confianza que necesito ahora para enseñar clases de cocina a mis estudiantes.

También trabajo en un mercado de granjeros en un barrio donde hay mucha gente hispanohablante. En este contexto, tengo la capacidad de ayudar a los clientes con sus compras y también conectar personalmente con mis vecinos. Por eso, la capacidad de comunicarme en español me permite aprender más sobre la diversidad de personas en mi comunidad y me hace sentir más parte de mi nuevo hogar.

Melanie Rockport ’12

Melanie Rockport With Marta Román Fernández, Spanish Department language assistant ’11-’12, San Sebastián, Spain
Melanie Rockport ’12 with Marta Román Fernández, Spanish Department language assistant ’11-12, San Sebastián, Spain

I  began Grinnell College in 2008. I had taken Spanish throughout high school, and my decision to add “Intermediate Spanish” to my schedule felt somewhat reflexive. I drifted from “Intermediate Spanish” to “Reading and Discussion of Spanish Texts.” It was during this summer that I began to understand that Spanish may be studied in the classroom, but it is lived in so many places. My passion grew, and I soon found myself working at a preschool in a disadvantaged neighborhood of Córdoba, Argentina. I then spent the spring semester of my junior year studying in Santiago, Chile.  My love of the language had grown to such an extent that I dreaded the possibility of a future into which Spanish did not factor. Three months after graduation, I was working as an English teaching assistant in northeastern Spain. At the year’s end, I relocated to the southern city of Granada, where I went on to teach for two more wonderful years. Last year, I enrolled as a graduate student at the Universidad de Granada, where I studied Estudios Latinoamericanos: Cultura y Gestión. Now, I sit here, more than four years after my initial arrival, still in Spain, and now in possession of a master’s degree. My love of Spanish has only grown stronger, and I have come to call Granada my home.

Eleanor Stevens ’14

Eleanor Stevens ’14 and Ana Cauich at the mouth of a cenote in Yucatan, Mexico
Eleanor Stevens ’ and Ana Cauich at the mouth of a cenote, a sinkhole leading to an underground aquifer, in Yucatan, Mexico.

There's no skill so powerful and so versatile as speaking another language fluently. But there's also nothing harder to master. You have to eat and breath the language, and stick with it for years. Majoring in Spanish at Grinnell let me do just that. I took Spanish almost every semester -- sometimes half my course load was entirely in Spanish -- and that concentrated study brought me from basic conversational Spanish in 2010, to doing complex social and literary analysis in Spanish in 2014. Grinnell arranged for me to study abroad at a Mexican university in 2012, where I made dear Mexican friends and lived with Mexican host families. I've translated a Mexican novel; interpreted for immigration lawyers at a South Texas detention facility; created a bilingual website; and communicated on a human level with people from cultures very different from my own. Grinnell's Spanish major has expanded my worldview exponentially and given me more opportunities for exploration and human connection than I would ever have believed possible. 

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