Laura Hoppe, daughter of Tom and Sheryl Hoppe, is headed for a year in Columbia as a Fulbright scholar. Laura is a 2012 graduate of Forest Lake Area High School, and she is graduating from the University of Minnesota, Morris with a double major in Spanish and Latin American Area Studies, and a minor in Management.
Below you can learn more about Laura, as she answers some questions about the Fulbright project, her learning experiences, and her plans for the future.
What will you be doing as a Fulbright scholar?
I will be an English teaching assistant at the Universidad de San Buenaventura in Bogotá, Colombia from July 2016 to May 2017. I will also be engaging in a community project of my choosing. My project will be based off of a group here at UMM [University of Minnesota, Morris] called The Jane Addams Project. This group promotes bilingual, cross-cultural interactions through presentations, games, discussion circles, and community events. Our motto is, "Everyone is a teacher, and everyone is a learner." I hope to create a similar club in Bogotá open to both students and community members who wish to practice their English in an informal setting, while at the same time meeting people from different backgrounds and sharing their stories. While in Guanajuato, I also started a photo project about the treatment of women and women's rights in Mexico, and I hope to continue that project in Colombia.
What learning experiences have helped you become who you are?
UMM has been incredible for me in terms of offering opportunities that have shaped both my college career and my future plans. As a freshman, I took a 12-hour training through the MN Literacy Council and immediately started teaching a women's ESL class by myself. Although I was thrown into the opportunity, and had very little experience teaching (much less teaching English as a Second Language!), I fell in love with the work and I formed close bonds with my students. We did everything from role-playing patient-doctor interactions to reading recipes in English and cooking brunch together. I also completed an internship with The Jane Addams Project and became more involved with the Latino population in Morris. By my sophomore year, I started working for the Office of Community Engagement as the ESL Program Assistant and I became a leader for The Jane Addams Project. These two experiences opened my eyes to the complexities of an immigrant's experience in rural Minnesota. Because many of the immigrants in Morris are from Mexico, I decided to study abroad in Guanajuato, Mexico for an academic year in order to get a first-hand experience of their country and culture. This experience not only improved my language skills immensely, but I also came to understand the importance of travel and the impact it can have in fostering greater understanding between countries. I came back to the U.S. with a whole new perspective of Mexico, of the U.S., and of migration between the two countries.
While in Mexico, I began teaching English to an exchange student from Colombia. Her passion for her country became evident as her eyes lit up while talking about the rolling hills in the Cafetero zone and the hustle and bustle of Bogotá. Mexico and Colombia are two countries that often hold a bad reputation in the U.S. because of their economic, political, or security situations. While in Mexico, I came to realize how different our ideas of a place can be compared to how we might actually experience them. It was because of this experience that I knew I wanted to go to Colombia in hopes of promoting greater understanding between the U.S. and Colombia.
Now, back in Morris, I continue to teach and work as an assistant in the ESL Program and co-lead The Jane Addams Project. Because of my improved language skills, I've become a volunteer interpreter and translator through the TERCERO program. I've interpreted for Spanish-speaking patients at the dentist and hospital, and for parents at conferences in the elementary school. I also volunteer once a week, translating documents for the public schools.
Because of my experiences at UMM, I've become a more confident person and a more curious learner. I've developed a passion for teaching, for learning languages, and for traveling. Hopefully, I can use these facets of my life to somehow, somewhere, positively impact the world.
Can you talk about how Forest Lake Area Schools helped prepare you for your life after high school?
I am very grateful for the quality education I received at Forest Lake High School. Because of AP and CIS classes, I was able to start college at a sophomore-level and use the extra time in my 4-year plan to spend an entire academic year abroad. I even had enough time to double-major, minor, and complete extra classes in the honors program.
Looking back on my experience in the Forest Lake Area school system, I have realized just how many teachers have pushed me, motivated me, and truly cared about me and my life trajectory. I am particularly thankful that Forest Lake High School places so much importance on foreign languages. Knowing a second language has allowed me to interact with people who I otherwise would not be able to talk to. This has opened my eyes in more ways than I can describe. The plethora of other extra-curriculars offered by FLHS really helped me find my niche in college. High school can be hard, but it was exactly because of that rigor--especially in AP and CIS classes--that I was able to successfully transition into college life.
Are there any specific staff members that made a real difference in your life choices or success, and why?
Yes! In fact, one of the essays I wrote for my Fulbright application was inspired by one of my high school language teachers, Señor Wing. His Survivor-style class was unlike anything I had ever seen in a classroom before. He engaged students far above and beyond what I had imagined from a high school language class. One of the things I really appreciated from both Señor Wing and Señora Espe-Och was their implementation of cultural activities in their Spanish classes. Learning about culture should go hand-in-hand with language learning, and these two teachers combined both subjects beautifully. Señora Espe-Och was the first person to introduce me to magical realism in South American literature. While it shocked me at first, I have come to love it and I have my high school teacher to thank for that! Both teachers inspired me to continue learning Spanish after high school, leading me to where I am today. Of course, there are more teachers than I can count who have impacted me along the way.
What direction do you plan to go with your life and career?
First, I hope to gain more experience teaching English abroad, particularly in Spanish-speaking countries. I enjoy working with young adults and adult learners, so I'm very excited to be teaching at a university in Bogotá. As much as I love teaching, I'm also very passionate about community engagement work. Volunteering has been a part of my life since junior high school, and I have been engaging in community work ever since. I am especially interested in working with immigrant populations and organizations that promote literacy or women's rights. Once I figure out where my passion lies, I hope to go back to school for a master's in teaching ESL/EFL or in a field related to community development.
The boy with the "Hermosa" sign was a part of my women's rights photography project. The question was, "What is one word to describe the Mexican woman?" Hermosa means "beautiful."
"What is one thing Mexican women need in society today?"
"Women deserve better education
and equal opportunities."
(Photos submitted by Laura Hoppe.)