On Taco Tuesdays at Eckerd College, you can get a side of Spanish with your lunch.
Assistant Professor of Spanish Cristina Delano, Ph.D., started a conversation table in the Main Cafeteria to encourage her students to practice the language in an informal setting—without the pressures of a classroom.
“The idea is, you can stay for a couple of minutes or a whole hour,” Delano explains. “It’s open and welcoming, but intimate enough for one-on-one connection. It’s also a chance for students to interact with native Spanish speakers on campus.”
Delano found her love of Spanish through encouragement from her teachers at the Academy of the Holy Names high school in Tampa, Florida. For a school trip, the students traveled to Madrid, Spain, to put all they had practiced in the classroom to work.
“That just kind of motivated me to continue learning Spanish,” Delano says. “I didn’t have a career in mind.”
In search of a path, she sent inquiries to several disciplines at a prestigious institution in Georgia—and was wowed by the response she received from the Spanish faculty.
Assistant Professor of Spanish Cristina Delano, Ph.D.
“It encapsulated all of my interests. I could study history, art, literature and culture,” she recalls. “From then on, I had a lot of interest in Spanish beyond language classes.”
She attended the University of South Florida for her bachelor’s degree and decided after graduation that she didn’t know enough. In USF’s master’s program, Delano did a teaching fellowship during her first semester and then returned to Madrid to study abroad.
“Before, I worked in mall retail,” she admits, “but when I stepped into the classroom, that was the first time I thought, This job, this is fun. … Okay, maybe I would like to be a professor.”
Her path to the classroom took her to Emory University in Atlanta. She began research in Spanish-city mystery novels—finding gothic themes, literary tropes and anxieties about the future in tomes from the 19th century.
After earning her Ph.D. in Spanish, she took her first teaching job at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, before returning to her Southern roots at The University of Mississippi. As an advocate for personal connection in education, Delano found herself longing for smaller classes again and decided to return to Tampa with her family to teach high school for five years.
When Eckerd announced openings in its Spanish discipline, she saw an opportunity to return to a more intimate collegiate environment at an institution that values study abroad and advancing social justice—two of her other passions.
This semester, she’s teaching Spanish 101 to three classes of students, introducing them to a language she loves and can’t wait for them to be excited about as well. In the future, she hopes to organize Winter Term trips abroad and Spring Break Service Trips that allow students to find passion in the language by practicing with real human beings. In a world of language-learning apps, nothing beats speaking with a human, Delano says.
“Language is about communication, and communication is about people,” she says.
“You need to have a human connection to learn a language. People provide culture and context. I try to have a lot of group conversations and activities to get to know my students. The language has to be relevant to your life. You have to connect.”