As of this fall, Juan Poveda is the newest Foreign Language Learning Associate in the Spanish department. I am a freshman student,” he says with a laugh when we sat down to have our conversation. His job as a Language Associate puts him in charge of the Spanish 201 and 202 Discussion sections, as well as the grammar section of Spanish 210. His doors are also open to writing tutoring hours for his Spanish 210 students where he is able to provide access to one-on-one learning for students.
For most of his life, Poveda has lived in Bogotá, Columbia with the exception of study abroad opportunities in Costa Rica and Brazil. As an undergraduate in Bogotá, he was a double major in Anthropology and Philosophy. After completing one year of law school, Poveda decided to switch paths and received a master’s degree in applied linguistics for Spanish teaching as a foreign language.
He has also worked for three years as a Spanish teacher for foreigners in Columbia. His master’s degree was what allowed him to travel outside of Columbia to teach Spanish. The university he got his master’s degree at had an academic companionship with Bates, which allowed him to apply for the program as a Learning Associate. “It’s a different experience in a completely foreign concept,” he compares working with Bates students to working with foreigners in Bogotá.
Before coming to Bates, Poveda received job offers to work with high school students outside of Columbia, but he was more attracted to the idea of working with college students as he believed he could relate to the students’ eagerness to learn about language. He also wanted the unique view of the world that students at universities provide. “It’s not that I’m very old myself,” he quickly corrects, “but I can see myself there when I was eighteen—looking for what I wanted to do and what tendencies I wanted to follow.”
When asked to reflect on his time at Bates so far he says, “People are very nice here. I haven’t encountered anyone rude here, just a Walmart guy.”
Beyond the politeness that Poveda has witnessed so far at Bates, he sees himself making an impact on our campus in his own way. He wants to inspire his students to see how learning a foreign language can open their eyes to a new perspective of the world. In reflection of his own process of learning a language, he wants others to realize that it is possible to learn more about yourself in terms of expression.
I myself am one of his students in the Spanish 201 Discussion section, and I have found myself always enjoying the fun and interactive nature of our class. I have observed that he has a way of making the anxiety of any unnerving situation go away—a quality that makes it easier to raise your hand in class.
As part of his master’s degree research, he studied how humor and tension open the possibility of didactic understanding. Poveda observed how students in foreign language classes became tense because they had little familiarity with others in the class and they developed a fear of making mistakes. He plans on continuing his research as part of his position as a Learning Associate by trying to implicitly investigate if the students in the discussions are becoming less anxious by this change in environment and class structure.
As someone who has personally struggled with speaking up in class, I have noticed my own growing ease in raising my hand in our discussions. Poveda makes an effort at the beginning of every class to share a Spanish related meme, video, or song to relax the tension and get us to laugh.
“I look forward to my discussion with Juan every week,” Maggie Marsh ‘23 from Spanish 201 says. “He provides a comfortable environment where students can take chances to become a better speaker and a better student.” I encourage those who are taking Spanish next semester to sign up for a discussion with Juan Poveda. He tells us, “It is a whole new world, and the only way to approach this new world is through language.”