International Teaching Assistants Past & Present
TAs from far and wide share their experiences working with the Department of Global Languages and Cultures at Hood College.
Department of Global Languages and Cultures
- Spanish: Iberian & Latin American Cultural Studies (B.A.)
- French (B.A.)
- Arabic & Middle Eastern Studies (B.A.)
- Global Languages & Cultures
In recent years, Hood College has become an international hub, with students from 25 different countries studying on campus. Some seek training in science and IT, while others are attracted to the arts and humanities. A select cohort enroll as teaching assistants in the Department of Global Languages and Cultures. Having native speakers in the classroom is a huge asset to local students and faculty alike.
TAs for the various language programs come to Frederick from far and wide. Hood has welcomed transfer students from Spain, France, Germany and Saudi Arabia, among other nations. These international transplants have the opportunity to immerse themselves in American culture, but they also bring a wealth of knowledge and experiences from their home countries.
The TA exchange program was initially devised in the 1980s as part of what was then called the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. Originally, the College depended on an outside agency to provide TAs, but faculty were not always satisfied with these candidates. That’s when Professor Emerita of Spanish Roser Caminals-Heath, Ph.D., decided to step in and take a new approach. She utilized her connections with the University of Barcelona to recruit graduate students who could serve as Spanish TAs at Hood, while simultaneously pursuing their master’s in humanities.
Caminals-Heath noticed a marked improvement in quality, which benefited both TAs and their students. “The TAs brought the fresh perspective of an international graduate student and served as liaisons between the department and the Language Houses,” she says. “Conversely, the TAs from Barcelona had a chance to further their studies in an English-speaking country and in a different academic context. The experience, besides enriching them personally, helped build up their CVs.”
Her successor, Robert Casas Roigé, Ph.D., currently serves as the Spanish language coordinator in addition to his duties as an assistant professor. He believes that TAs are an essential component of the global languages program. “They have been a priceless resource for our students, as well as for the Hood community at large,” he says. “They bring a firsthand approach to the topics covered in course materials, therefore helping our students to improve not only the language they are learning, but also their cultural competency.”
Lisa Algazi Marcus, Ph.D., is Roigé's counterpart for the French program. "Hood has had French language assistants for at least 30 years," she says. "Our French TAs are students from the Sorbonne University in Paris. Part of their job here at Hood is to co-teach the introductory French language courses, so that students are exposed to current youth culture and French slang by someone close to their age. They might share trends in French music or make their favorite French food for the class."
Additionally, German TAs are recruited from the University of Mainz, while Arabic TAs are selected from Saudi Arabian students enrolled in Hood's graduate computer science and information technology programs. "It is sometimes hard to connect with people when you are a guest in a country, so the Arabic TA position serves two roles," says Donald Wright, Ph.D., director of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies. "It is a great way for traditional American students to learn more about the language and cultures of the Arab world and for our international students from Saudi Arabia to learn more about how American liberal arts colleges function and to get to know American students firsthand."
The relationships forged between TAs and their students have a lasting impact for everyone involved. “I had a great connection with the students,” says Irene López Sánchez, M.A.’18, who traveled from Spain to serve as TA from 2016-2018. During this time, Sánchez also completed a master’s in humanities at Hood. Being both a student and a teacher gave her a unique perspective. “For me, openness and empathy are two of the best qualities a person may have. Knowing other languages allows you to communicate better with people from other countries, and therefore, to understand them better and to develop that empathy.”
Simon El Rayah, a former German TA, echoes that sentiment. “A language is more than a system of words and sounds—it is the oral and written representation of a culture. If you learn a language, you learn about a culture and about people.” Beyond simply communicating, learning a new language helps develop respect and mutual understanding between people from wildly different backgrounds. Through dialogue, we begin to realize how much common ground we all share, no matter where we were born.
Enjoying shared experiences in the classroom is a common thread for TAs, no matter what language they teach. Anne-Catherine Duddenhoeffer, who was a French TA at Hood, says collaborating with students and introducing them to her culture was the best aspect of teaching. “The cool but tricky part was explaining French rules that I apply on a daily basis but acquired without thinking about it. I had to put myself in the learner’s brain. I didn’t think teaching my own language would be so complicated!”
According to former Spanish TA Clara Escoda-Agusti, M.A.’04, Ph.D., this cultural exchange is invaluable. “Being able to understand and read in a foreign language opens the door to appreciate its culture, cultural production and literature. It is an enriching and eye-opening experience,” she says. “It broadens the circle of friends and acquaintances we can make through life, encompassing people who are more distant geographically and in ways of thinking.”
Having completed her doctorate at the University of Barcelona after earning an M.A. in humanities from Hood, Clara has come full circle and now assists with the recruitment of the next generation of Spanish language TAs. She hopes today’s students, regardless of their major, will find the intrinsic value of learning a foreign language. “For me, openness and empathy are two of the best qualities a person may have. Knowing other languages allows you to communicate better with people from other countries, and therefore, to understand them better and develop that empathy,” she explains.
Raquel Zarzuelo García-Parada is one of these new TAs. Originally from a working-class neighborhood in Barcelona, Raquel developed a passion for literature and began studying English in high school. She first started teaching when she was only 19. “I had a hard time being a teacher at the beginning of my career, but it feels so natural to be a TA at Hood,” she says. “Being a teacher is hard. We put in a lot of effort and time. Sometimes things don’t go well, but we have to keep trying for our students.”
Despite these challenges, Raquel is committed to a career in education, particularly in language studies. “My teachers always told me that language is the key to other people’s cultures,” she recalls. “Learning about another community, culture and way of living makes us grow. It helps us learn about who we are in the world.”
In addition to collaborating with TAs in the classroom, Hood students can also apply to live in one of three Language Houses, which have been operating for nearly 80 years. Each house is led by a language assistant, usually one of the program’s current TAs. Residents are expected to always speak the respective language in each house. This approach is a fast track to competency—the perfect primer for a subsequent semester studying abroad.
Dr. Casas is proud to continue the legacy of the TA exchange program at Hood. “For my colleagues and myself, seeing our TAs learn, embrace teaching, expand their horizons and grow is one of the most rewarding experiences we have.”