Andrade’s classroom is a mix of native and non-native Spanish speakers. She recognized that, at first, the prospect of engaging in a conference where the principal language was not the students’ first language was both challenging and intimidating. She explained that the students “did a good job, but they were nervous about speaking and understanding everything that was happening.” This experience provided a challenge to which Andrade’s students, both native and non-native, rose. Andrade explained one situation in which two of her students, who were not native Spanish speakers, engaged in the discussions and were able to get their message across. From this experience, the students realized that they “didn’t have to speak perfect Spanish to be understood.” This experience was not only transformative for the students directly involved, but also served as an example to the rest of Andrade’s students regarding what they can accomplish when they put their minds to it.
The Spanish MUN also proved valuable to Andrade’s students from a mentorship perspective. Through the program, students spend time with leaders and individuals working in related career fields. One group of four students developed a strong connection to their leaders which lead to lengthier conversations to learn more about their professions. These networking experiences help students see the bigger picture and gain a sense of empowerment.
Even for native speakers, however, language posed a challenge. Through the Spanish MUN, students interact with the Spanish language in a formal setting, dealing with issues such as diplomacy and world problems. This interaction is much different than the vocabulary and language that the students acquire within their homes. Andrade explained that “even in immersion programs, [students] don’t get to use language in this way.” Andrade helped her students prepare for the MUN conference through Spanish in-class presentations, assignments, practice and training. These projects contributed to building confidence and comradery amongst the students motivated by the success of their peers. Andrade noted that it “was really great to see the projects bring native and non-native speakers together” and it helped them “develop deeper relationships.” Despite these students speaking the same language, the native and non-native Spanish speakers “tend to be in different groups, [but] this experience really brought them together.” They put aside their differences in the effort of pursuing a greater common goal.
After completing the program, Andrade also noticed that her students were more interested in what was going on in the world, more aware of the conflict, better able to make global connections, and bring the conversations into the classroom. These changes allowed students to “make a stronger, deeper connection to what they study in the classroom” an ability that Andrade views as “very important and powerful.” In the future, Andrade plans to participate in an extension of the MUN program to complete community service projects. This extension of the program will further allow students to take what they learn and put it into action to make a positive difference in their community.