You don’t need luggage or a passport. You don’t need to board a plane or go through customs. In fact, to get the immersion experience of study abroad, you don’t even need to leave campus.
The Casa Hispana at the College of Charleston allows students to become fluent in the Spanish language and in Hispanic cultures from the comfort of home. A residential living and learning community for Spanish minors/majors enrolled in Spanish 202 or higher, la Casa Hispana is a historic home located on Bull Street and requires only that its residents speak Spanish while in the house and participate in cultural events.
“The Spanish House is for students with a passion for learning and a curiosity about the world,” says Michael Gómez, chair of the Department of Hispanic Studies. “It’s for those who want to stretch themselves as individuals and enrich their lives by expanding their own cultural perspectives.”
Becoming fluent in Spanish is just an added bonus.
“The house really makes becoming more fluent in Spanish really fun!” says Nico Harris, a junior astrophysics and physics major who moved into Casa Hispana last semester. “I decided to apply to the Spanish House because I love Spanish as a language and how it feels when you speak it. It’s sort of odd and magical how different it feels to communicate with someone in a different language and hear how vastly different the language sounds from your own.”
“Native speakers or heritage speakers should also consider living in the Casa Hispana,” says native Spanish speaker Anna Paneda, a junior foreign language education major who has lived in the house since her sophomore year. She adds that it’s also the perfect community for students who “want to submerge themselves in the Spanish language but may not be able to take the opportunity to travel abroad.”
And, with travel and study abroad at a virtual standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic, those opportunities are especially scarce these days.
That’s why tools like TalkAbroad – which facilitates conversations between students and speakers around the world – are so crucial. The service has been used in many CofC Spanish classes over the years – but, last semester, it occurred to Gómez and senior Hispanic studies instructor Devon Hanahan that TalkAbroad could be applied in Casa Hispana, too.
“We had just installed this brand-new 50-inch TV with a camera and a dedicated PC, so it just made perfect sense for the Casa residents to use it as a portal for communicating and interacting with other cultures,” says Hanahan, who serves as the director of Casa Hispana. “We figured that, if our students can’t go to them, we’ll bring them to us.”
When Hanahan reached out to TalkAbroad about the idea, the company loved it – and even provided a grant to cover the service.
“Adding TalkAbroad conversations into the schedule for the Casa Hispana was a really unique and exciting idea,” says Todd Nichols, CEO of TalkAbroad. “We’re thrilled to support the experiment, and I can really see the conversations adding a dynamic and unique element to the language immersion experience and the growth of students as global citizens.”
And the residents are pretty thrilled, too.
“Our residents are hooked on their weekly visits with conversation partners from around the Hispanic world,” says Hanahan, explaining that the students choose a different country every time – reading the bio of the person they’ll be talking to and then interacting with them for an hour or so at a time.
“TalkAbroad has exposed me to the various Spanish accents around the world and helped me grow to improve my own Spanish pronunciation,” says Harris. “We normally discuss our favorite movies, college majors, favorite foods – and we also talk about where the person Zooming in is from and some of the really awesome cultures that exist there.”
“Using TalkAbroad in a group setting at the house is fun because we get to talk to each other every day, so this allows us to meet someone new, learn new words, new trends, new cultures, etc.,” says Meredith Duncan, a junior marketing major who has lived in the house since the fall semester.
Gómez is pleased with the service and that it is enhancing students’ overall experience: “It’s just a great augmentation of the cultural experience they’re already getting.”
TalkAbroad is just one of several new and improved features added to Casa Hispana over the past year.
“We wanted to bring the house to the next level. When you walk in, instead of this empty shell, we wanted to give it a sense of place – give it a little attitude, a little flavor,” says Gómez, noting that – thanks to Hispanic Studies Advisory Board member Esther Ferguson – pots and pans have been added to the kitchen to encourage residents to try out different cuisines. “We tried to give each space a feeling, so that every room feels different and has a purpose.”
One of those new spaces is the Spanish Language Library in the living room.
“We wanted to make it feel like home, and every home has books,” says Gómez, noting that the library collection was built from donations to the department and now includes everything from Harry Potter to graphic novels – all in Spanish.
Residents have also embraced the idea of adding to the library – either by leaving their own books on the shelves or by donating money and recommendations.
“I think that gives it a sense of meaning that stays at the house when residents leave – they can leave their mark,” says Gómez. “It’s their contribution to the house for future residents.”
Another new feature for future Casa Hispana residents: the Casa Hispana Scholarship, a partial scholarship sponsored by members of the Hispanic Studies Advisory Board that will be granted to one student a year to cover the cost of their residence in La Casa Hispana.
“We are fortunate to have the support of the Hispanic Studies Advisory Board and very excited to offer this scholarship opportunity,” says Gómez. “It ensures that more students can take advantage of the Casa Hispana experience.”
And they don’t even need a passport!
Applications to live in Casa Hispana for the fall 2021 semester open on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Details about applications are available on the Casa Hispana webpage. For more information, contact Devon Hanahan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 843.953.5881.