When Daniel Melendez arrived at Allegheny at the beginning of last semester, he did not know how the college or living in North Village I’s Spanish House would change him.
Melendez, the 2017-18 Spanish teaching assistant, said he applied for the position because of his lifelong passion for language learning and a desire to help others foster their own language passions.
“Since I was a kid, I was always amazed by the way people talk,” Melendez said.
That amazement led Melendez to become involved in linguistics as an educator, and while earning an undergraduate degree in teaching English as a foreign language from the Pedagogical Experimental Libertador University in his home country, Venezuela, he served language students in several different settings.
“In my first semester of college, my first job was teaching kids English, and that’s how I started teaching,” Melendez said. “Then I went to a high school, and then I went to another academy, and it was really nice to be able to teach the language that I was also learning professionally in college.”
In the four months leading up to Melendez’s arrival at Allegheny, the political climate and demonstrations in Venezuela created a tumultuous environment for Melendez and his fellow citizens.
“I was having a very bad time during those four months, so Allegheny became my safe space for me to express my ideas, ideas that I couldn’t express in my country,” Melendez said. “I believe that when you think about American culture, sometimes you may not think about this type of community, but Allegheny has shown me that we can have it here.”
Melendez said he feels grateful to have been accepted as the college’s Spanish teaching assistant especially because the college rarely selects teaching assistants from Venezuela and other South American and Caribbean nations.
As a Spanish House resident, Melendez said he has the opportunity to break the conventional residential barrier between educators and students and use his teaching skills outside of Spanish classrooms.
Weekly coffee hours at the Spanish House are open to the campus community — this semester, coffee hours were held each Monday — and Wednesday events for house residents also contributed to the teaching–learning dynamic, according to Melendez.
Spanish House resident Jose Canela, ’20, said Wednesday events have focused on different Spanish topics, including slang, accents, history and culture.
Spanish House residents represent diverse cultural backgrounds, with some residents from Ecuadorian, Mexican and American cultures in addition to Melendez’s Venezuelan culture.
“Even though we all have different backgrounds, we just love the language Spanish, so that’s what we’re able to connect through,” Canela said.
As a sophomore, Canela is one of the youngest Spanish House resident and said he appreciates having upperclassmen role models and Melendez as resources for Spanish practice.
Diversity in culture, age and language level creates a welcoming learning environment, according to Marisol Loza, ’19.
Loza, a psychology major and Spanish minor, said she has found the extended language practice in the Spanish House particularly useful.
“I definitely like the fact that there’s different levels of speakers,” Loza said. “You’ll have the ones that are brand new to the language and then you’ll have the very advanced ones [and] the ones that grew up speaking both, so it’s very interesting.”
Loza said she was motivated to live in the Spanish House and applied for the 2017-18 school year partly because she hoped to share more of her Mexican heritage with her peers and now feels as though she has been able to do that.
Cultural learning and celebrating continues Saturday, April 28, at 11 a.m. as the Spanish House residents will host a free Venezuelan Brunch in collaboration with the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Union Latinx in North Village I. The brunch is open to the campus community, but due to limited space, Spanish House residents ask those interested in attending to contact Melendez.
Melendez said Allegheny has become a home for him and is excited to continue his language learning and teaching journey after this semester at Syracuse University. Melendez will work as a teaching assistant as he enters a two-year program at Syracuse. With a focus on Spanish linguistics, Melendez’s goal is to complete a master’s program in Spanish language, literature and culture.
“My philosophy on languages is that if I could make it with English, or that people can make it with any language, we all can make it,” Melendez said.