There’s something life-giving about sharing cultures through conversation.
The warmth of a meal. The richness of a language. The context of an idiom that is otherwise lost on a non-native speaker. There’s beauty in it all, and it has a practicality that has brought new meaning to an old hobby for junior Janie Lee Allen.
As a double-major in Elementary Education and Spanish, Allen has always enjoyed learning foreign languages. It’s a study she took up in junior high, but became a passion as her fluency increased.
“I’ve always enjoyed it,” Allen said. “Because even in Upland — and this area is not a very diverse area — it's true even around here. We need people who can speak Spanish. It just gives you a lot more opportunities and ways to connect with people and help people so I think that's really cool.”
First learning Spanish with her brother and mother, Allen has always found that connection through language. It’s almost as if it’s part of her family’s DNA.
Going back to her grandfather, Allen credited his love of language for her own.
“He really was interested in languages so he would kind of, like, help us with our Spanish at home,” Allen said.
But as Allen left high school, she struggled to find that same network of language-learning here at Taylor.
Seeking out a linguistics community, Allen eventually discovered a club started by Nehemiah Rao and Thomas Pope, two students whose passion for learning Spanish started in Breuninger Hall before transitioning to the Euler Atrium, where the club now meets on Thursday nights.
It’s a small group, but for Allen, that’s part of the appeal.
“It's just a really, like, low key environment where you don't feel like you have to speak Spanish fluently,” Allen said. “It's very intimidating to just try and just have a Spanish conversation. And so, this is a very good place to struggle through. Like, we figure things out together.”
Despite the struggle, however, the club is rooted in the fluency and creativity of its founders.
Whether it’s learning to cook authentic Hispanic food as a group or playing games with clues written out in Spanish, Spanish Club keeps things fresh for students hoping to hone their skills.
“With such a small club, it can be difficult to try and keep conversation going, especially in Spanish,” Allen said. “But I think Tommy and Nehemiah do a really good job of making it fun. And then, even if we have those awkward pauses we're like, ‘OK, how do we say this? We don't know what we're saying.’ Like, no, we just laugh. We have a really — it's a really good time, a really fun time.”
And while Allen has enjoyed exploring recipes such as making tostones and tamales, she hopes that people will join the Spanish Club for more than just the food.
With repetition and practice being such a huge part of retaining fluency in a language, Allen has struggled with watching people jump in and out of the club, or only staying for the meal.
“The food is really nice,” Allen admitted. “I feel like that draws people, but I feel like the fact that anybody can, like, literally anybody can show up is our biggest strength of the club.”
And Spanish Club has drawn students with a wide range of knowledge.
Growing together, Allen has seen people who knew just a few phrases enter the club alongside those who are hoping to keep their accent from home, and watched that love of language bring their group closer together.
“The best thing about Spanish club, about anybody being welcomed?” Allen said. “It’s important. For Christmas, they bought us all like little cups, like little mugs with a Spanish Bible verse in Spanish on it. So that was really sweet of them to do that. That was really cool.”
It’s the little things that have brought Allen into the community of the club. But the integration of fellowship and faith and learning has become a beautiful representation of not only Taylor’s culture, but of the international culture Christians are called to.
More than just sharing a meal, more than just sharing a language, Spanish Club is about community for Allen. And it’s her hope that as more people join, she can share that love and light she has found with a greater part of campus.