On the Ridge

Fulbright Teaching Assistant Shares Culture With Students

On a sunny April afternoon, students in Dr. Esteban Mayorga’s Introduction to Latin American Studies class participated in a discussion about Che Guevara. What made this particular discussion unique was the guest lecturer: Florencia Yuvero, an Argentinian who spent the spring semester at Niagara University as a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant.

Since 1968, the FLTA Program has endeavored to strengthen foreign language instruction at U.S. educational institutions by establishing a native speaker presence in the classroom. The program provides an opportunity for young, international teachers to increase their knowledge of American culture while sharing the values and customs of their own countries.

Growing up in a small Argentinian town, Florencia was always interested in linguistics and the origins of words. She began studying English at the age of 12 and continued her studies in public translation at the National University of Córdoba, where she also served as a student assistant in the university’s School of Languages. After earning her degree as a public translator of English, she moved to Buenos Aires, where she obtained a job as a translator for the courts and membership in the Sworn Translators’ Association of the City of Buenos Aires.

Because the job market for translators was extremely competitive, Florencia also took on work as an English and Spanish teacher for speakers of other languages. She notes that Buenos Aires has many different “speaking communities” which are learning Spanish and English as second or third languages, and says that it is difficult for individuals in these communities to succeed in their professional and personal lives without a good grasp of the Spanish and English languages.

“I became interested in how to help those persons who have problems with languages, especially the younger generation,” she says.

To that end, she applied for a Fulbright Award.

“My aim was to try to find answers to the question of how to help these students to acquire skills to understand language so that they can communicate in the best possible way and succeed,” she says.

Florencia was selected as an FLTA, and on Jan. 12, 2015, she arrived at Niagara University. For the next four months, she assisted Dr. James McCutcheon, associate professor of modern and classical languages, and Dr. Esteban Mayorga, assistant professor of Spanish and coordinator of the Latin American studies program. Florencia’s role included work in the university’s translation lab and with the conversation tables held in the Gallagher Center, assistant teaching, tutoring, grading homework and exams, and giving university and community lectures.

“Florencia enhanced my classes by bringing real South American anecdotal and theoretical experience to the discussion,” says Dr. Mayorga.

Because one of the goals of the program is to develop Americans’ knowledge of foreign cultures, Florencia was involved in several activities to share traditional Argentinian life with her students. She prepared classic foods such as empanadas, a stuffed pastry, and alfajores, lemon sandwich cookies filled with dulce de leche and rolled in coconut; held a raffle for a book by writer Jorge Luis Borges; discussed cinema through the viewing of Argentinian soap operas; and shared her music by giving basic Tango lessons.

In addition to her work as a teaching assistant, Florencia took two courses and volunteered to work on a public history project with Stephanie Bucalo, a lecturer in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages. The project, coordinated by the Hispanic Heritage Council of WNY, Inc., the Randforce Associates, LLC, and the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, endeavors to document the Hispanic experience in Western New York since the beginning of the 20th century up until present day. Florencia assisted in translating some of the more than 50 interviews that have been collected.

While her work at Niagara kept her busy, Florencia still found time for travel. She went to Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C, where she visited other universities, museums, and the White House. During her travels, she became more aware of the language barriers many Hispanic communities in the U.S. face, experiences she draws upon as she returns to her students in Argentina.

Ultimately, Florencia hopes that her semester in America will enable her to bring new and creative ideas to her home country to help her launch a company that provides linguistic services to foreign language learners.

“The experience has been enriching because you meet people from different places and learn from their experiences,” she says.