Last week, Pitt-Johnstown held its sixth annual Spanish Week. Spanish teachers from the UPJ Foreign Languages Department have planned a week full of events to encourage students to discover and learn about Hispanic culture. They focused on participation in language learning and travel to Spanish-speaking countries.
The events began on Tuesday, November 1 with a presentation on “Bolivia’s Infectious Diseases: A Study Abroad with a Research Component” by Dr. Jill Henning, Professor of Biology. On Wednesday, November 2, Dr. Ryan Kerrigan, Department Chair and Associate Professor of Energy and Earth Resources, presented “The Beauty and Culture of Peru, or: How to Travel with Your Family for 2 Months in Peru and Not kill each other”. On Thursday, November 3, the presentations ended with “A Change of Perspective: My Experience in Bolivia” by student George Ungerer. Then, the Spanish week ended with a screening of the animated film Encanto in the Cambria Hall of the Students’ Union, hosted by the Pitt-Johnstown Spanish Club.
In 2017, Dr. Alvaro A. Bernal, foreign language teacher and Spanish program coordinator, offered this campus-wide event. He said “the idea is to expose the students to the culture and to see the importance of the Spanish language”. However, Bernal noted that turnout has not been at the level he would like to see. “I don’t see that students in general are aware of the importance of speaking a foreign language,” he said. “So often with extracurricular activities in college, attendance is low. Often professors have to offer extra credits for students to leave.
“In general, college is not just about taking classes, but college is also about attending lectures, making new friends, going to parties, those kinds of acquaintances that are outside the classroom. class,” Bernal said. He believes that college is not just about getting a degree, but also about developing skills and life experiences. He wants more students to have the drive or passion to learn outside of their required courses. “Unfortunately I have to say that in the last ten years I haven’t seen this, we call it in Spanish, ‘fuego interior’, this internal fire.” Bernal notes that enrollment has increased in elementary Spanish courses at UPJ, however, once graduation requirements are met, the number of students in higher-level Spanish courses decreases.
Bernal hopes that events such as Spanish Week will show students how important learning the Spanish language is and how impactful learning about another culture can be. Spanish is offered as a minor at UPJ for those who wish to supplement their education with an understanding of this rapidly spreading language and culture. Everyone is welcome to join the Spanish club or even participate in a study abroad program in a Spanish-speaking country.