Civic Responsibility Abroad

By: Danny Magrans, World Language Department Chair

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Mahatma Gandhi. 

The ability to teach a World Language comes with tremendous responsibilities and amazing rewards. The world is so big and the need to make global connections are more apparent than ever before. To develop fluency in a target language should be the goal for all who teach a second language, but so should developing life long learners of all the beauty that surrounds us. Especially when we serve. 

So far my students and I have been honored to travel to Costa Rica, Peru, and the Dominican Republic. Each of these trips were built to tour the countries, speak the language, engage in and create cultural experiences and most importantly serve. I am so proud of the work we have completed and trust that greater opportunities are in the horizon. No matter what the mission, the end results have been consistently the same; those who give are usually the recipients of the greater gift. I agree with Gandhi’s statement, in order to understand who we are… we should commit ourselves to the service of others. 

“There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.” Woodrow Wilson

Many ask me why do we serve? Doesn’t it take a tremendous responsibility to organize a trip, and prepare students for the experiences? In short….yes it does. A lot of work is put in to prepare and while on the trip, but to be perfectly honest I can’t imagine living without serving. I can’t imagine teaching without motivating as many students as I can to make a difference and reach as many hearts as possible. While it may sound cliche, we all have beautiful gifts that others need to see. To not share our gifts would be to deny the One who gave them to us. It would also be to deny the opportunity to grow from the magnificent differences that exist all around us. Our goal should be to gain understanding and reach conclusions based on experiences earned. This works best for me and my students when we are able to roll up our sleeves and dig, paint, build, supply, buy, laugh, play, and share a meal with those we serve. Over the course of  the last few years, we have dug a water line in Costa Rica, worked alongside locals to build and supply a girls school, and volunteered with the Dream Organization in the Dominican Republic, to name just a few. Two worlds divided by such great distance but yet so similarly bonded by a common theme, LOVE.

“The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams, but in active charity and in willing service.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

Many years ago I was asked the question, “What do you teach?” For some reason it just forced me to think more profoundly.  I said, “I teach life and use Spanish as my catalyst.” I really meant my response.

So why do we serve others while traveling abroad? Because we are blessed with the gifts to extend to others. I strongly believe most students long to make a difference in this world. As a result I will continue try to extend the opportunities to all who are willing and able to go. I am forever grateful for those who have taken this walk with me. 

Foreign Language at Any Age

By: Morgan James, Spanish Teacher

Too often we hear adults share that they do not remember much from language classes taken during school age years. Unfortunately, the expectations of becoming a fluent speaker are somewhat unrealistic. While hoping to become bilingual from a traditional school day or playing on an app for one hour a week are far-fetched, learning a foreign language at any age is not. Although it is true that many times at a younger age we have less fear to try new things, you can in fact teach”seasoned” dog new tricks. With the right tools and motivation, anyone, at any age, can learn a newlanguage.


New teaching trends and technology have made it increasingly easier to access materials to aide in the pursuit of becoming bilingual. However, hopping on an app andcompleting a game-structured lesson once or twice a week is simply not enough to become a fluent speaker. I once had a college professor share that fluency can be compared to singing a song. One of the biggest mistakes made when trying to learn a foreign language is not exercising the different skills that are part of effective communication. Learning a language is not only being able to speak words, but the ability to interpret and use in conversation.





The benefits of learning a foreign language can be life changing. Languages allow us to experience new cultures. When we travel, we are typically in a state of mind far from the everyday hustle and bustle we experience at home. This mindset often encourages us to be more open to trying new things we may not normally try within our daily routine. While we learn a great deal about others through travel, we also learn a lot about ourselves.

Traveling with children creates a global awareness far from what they would receive hearing about other places through textbooks or stories. Students will often return from school trips saying how much more they appreciate their life at home after experiencing a new country. The same can be said for adults who have traveled for business or leisure.


School and Work


Many studies on students taking foreign language classes have shown that the skills developed in a language class actually benefit core classes, such as math, science, history, and English. According to The College Board, the organization responsible for preparing standardized test like SAT or ACT, students who have studied a foreign languagefor 4 or more years outscored students who had not on the verbal and math portions of the test. Many colleges today promote the idea of “global citizenship”.  This is the idea that students have rights and responsibilities as members of the world, rather than members of specific nations. Many colleges like to see that students have not only satisfied college graduation requirements by taking a language, but also surpassed the minimum requirement and shown interest in becoming a “global citizen” through different cultural experiences or travels.

There have also been numerous studies showing that students learning a foreign language have increased problem solving and memorization skills. Speaking another language assists students in becoming more aware of grammar and vocabulary in their native language. Students also benefit through the use of interpersonal skills. In a world that at times feels like it is beingtaken over by machines, we sometimes see students who simply do not know how to communicate with peers outside of text and social media. Learning a second language can be a confidence boost for many students.


In the work environment, the ability to speak a second language can easily help your resume stand out from your colleagues. In some cases, the ability to speak a second language can increase your salary. Many companies operate internationally and have a need to hire staff that isbilingual. This is not only for translation, but to help the company understand customary practices andnorms of the countries they do business in.


Why Now? 


At this time, the resources available for those wishing to acquire a second language are endless. While applications and workbooks are awesome tools, aforeign language learner needs to remind himself or herself that foreign language communicationtakes practice and, moreimportantly, use. In order to achieve fluency, you need to exercise all the areas crucial to communication. No single program can achieve that. Making the language part of your everyday life is key.Even without a friend or colleague to converse with in the language being studied, there are things that can be done to aid in learning.  Set your TV orNetflix account to the language you are learning, look up 2 or 3 new vocabulary words a day in a foreign languagedictionary, get a workbook and do a page or two a day, or listento music in the target language.


One of the biggest takeaways is that adults and children do not learn new things the same way. Children learn through play and repetition. They also have stronger echoic skills or the ability to mimic sounds. However, adults learning a foreign language can be more motivated and have a greater understanding of what it takes to master a new skill.   Learning a foreign language does take commitment.  Learning something new can be frustrating when we find that we cannot simply pick up a manual or watch a YouTube video and teach ourselves how to do something. While the gratification of learning a language is far from instant, sometimes the things in life that take the most time and effort bring the greatest reward and fulfillment.


Dominican Republic Days 5-8

Danny Magrans, Spanish Teacher


“Laugh, Think and Cry”

The final days of our trip passed so quickly. Each day was filled with tremendous excursions which included a tour of Santo Domingo’s historical district, the Museum of Resistance, a visit to Christopher’s Columbus’ tomb, and finally a tour of the Chocolate Museum. We learned so many valuable lessons about the Dominican Republic’s past and present social climate. We were able to compare and contrast the similarities and differences of our culture to theirs. We were able to walk the streets where many defining moments were decided. Moments that probably molded our world. As exciting as these excursions were, I wondered if perhaps there would be another opportunity for us to capture. One more opportunity to serve.  

The last dinner we shared was at a restaurant called Adrian Tropical. The menu was exciting and filled with so many delicious options. Included in the menu were options for traditional dishes as well as dishes that some of my students were missing from home…..cheeseburgers and fries. The desserts were amazing. The natural fruit juices even better. 

At first I worried about the amount of time it would take to serve our group. There were 26 of us and only 1 of them. Unfair odds if you ask me. I wondered if our waitress would be able to handle these odds. While she did receive some help, it wasn’t nearly enough. Towards the end of our two hour meal I paused long enough to sit with some students and ask the waitress some questions. I wanted to get a feel for what it was like to be a part of the working class and young in the DR. I wanted the students who were around me to listen to her responses. Here is what we learned. 

The waitress is 21 years old and lives in a single bedroom apartment with her sister who is also a waitress. The rest of her family lives in a village outside of Santo Domingo. She is currently attending a public university where she hopes to become an administrator for the hotel industry. Tourism is huge in the DR and so this makes sense. Attending a public university in the DR is relatively inexpensive but not the living expenses nor the books. The rest of the information she offered is worth sharing. When asked about her work schedule and payment structure this is what she said. She works 77 hours per week and on occasions gets a Saturday off. She earns a monthly salary of 200 dollars. While I do not pretend to be a math wizard I believe this means she earns 65 cents per hour. One may claim that the cost of living is much cheaper in the DR. Perhaps they’re right in some ways but certainly not in all.

I often reflect on my ability to capture the moments that matter most. I’m sure I am like most….too busy to notice if its happening or not. Like a baseball player who at the plate fails more than he succeeds I wondered if the moment we were given to talk to this waitress was an opportunity for us to hit a grand slam. Should I swing or simply watch the opportunity go by? I decided to swing and this is what happened next. I rallied my students for a simple presentation of our waitress’ reality. I asked them to tip a little more than what we normally gave which is a dollar per meal per person. After collecting all the tip money I presented the waitress with 165.00. As expected she was speechless. While she was barely able to mutter a thank you her tears spoke to our hearts. 

At this point I felt certain we had completed our purpose. Jim Valvano stated in his last ESPY speech, “There are three things we should do everyday….Laugh, Think and Cry. If we can do all three then we know we lived a full day.” Mission accomplished for the Dominican Republic Crew. 

“Whether for a reason, season, or lifetime we are placed in each others’ lives to serve a purpose.” I hope we served our’s well. 

Begin Your Journey.