Pursuing the American Dream through Spanish Education

Posted: September 18, 2017 10:00:00 AM CDT

Cecilia Perales and Michelle Warren photoCecilia (Ceci) Perales’ parents moved to the United States to pursue the American Dream, hoping for a better life and education for their children. Perales decided to attend the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK), close to her hometown of Lexington, Nebraska, where she was determined to play a role in fulfilling her parents’ dream as well as her own.

As a child, Perales learned to love the Spanish language and celebrate her Mexican heritage. Going back and forth between school and home required her to be bilingual, primarily speaking Spanish at home with her family and English in the classroom. The love of language shaped her goal to teach in her own classroom.

“I wanted to be really good at both languages,” she said. “I wanted to go into a classroom and show students how to appreciate the Spanish language because it’s just so important to me. Also, because of tradition and culture, family is everything, so I really wanted to stay close during my education.”

Perales is the first among her three other siblings to become a college graduate, earning a bachelor’s degree in education from UNK last spring. She connected with two offices at the university that became like family to her—the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion, and the Department of Modern Languages. The people, resources, and support at UNK were deciding factors in continuing beyond her bachelor’s degree.

She received encouragement from Dr. Michelle Warren, assistant professor of Spanish (pictured above with Perales at right), and Dr. Jonathan Dettman, associate professor of Spanish, to apply to the Spanish Education master’s program. They also encouraged her to apply for a Graduate Assistant position at UNK. Perales was skeptical about applying, never imagining she would be able to have the opportunity.

“Dr. Warren assured me I was enough and was one of the best motivators who filled me up with so much love and hope,” Perales said.

She applied, and Warren’s comments rang true throughout the Modern Languages department that Perales was the best choice to fill the position.

“I never thought that this girl, coming from this background, could do this,” Perales said about herself. “My parents don’t know how to even explain that I’m pursuing my master’s degree, but they are so proud,” she said.

Perales began her graduate education journey this fall, teaching an undergraduate course in Spanish as part of her Graduate Assistant position. She can implement teaching strategies from her master’s program into her own classroom today, focusing on language as well as an appreciation for culture.

“Just because you think you may know the culture, because it’s the culture you are from, doesn’t mean that you don’t have more you can learn,” she said. “Right now, I’m learning about what happened in Spain during the civil war. It’s one thing to speak, read, and write [in Spanish], but it is another thing to really know the culture and history,” she said.

Growing up, Perales learned to appreciate her heritage from her mother, who taught her children how to do folkloric dances. Regardless of where they lived, her mother wanted her family to celebrate and carry on both their language and heritage.

With those priorities in mind, Perales found the perfect fit in the online Master of Arts in Education (MAE) in Spanish Education program. The 36-credit-hour program focuses half of the coursework on Spanish and the other half primarily on second language attainment and foreign language teaching.

After graduation, Perales hopes to teach in a public school with a diverse student base that can relate to her story. Carrying on her family’s American Dream, she is well on her way to becoming a Spanish teacher and inspiring others to reach their goals through education.

To get started in the online MAE in Spanish Education, visit UNK eCampus.

By: Alyssa Wyant

Category: General, eCampus

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