Lee News

Encore Provides Cultural Experiences for Students

By Hannah Vickery

For five consecutive semesters, Encore students at Lee University have immersed themselves in a new language. From the classroom to traveling to international countries, these students have put their Spanish-speaking skills to the test.

“They are so eager and willing to fully understand the target culture and language,” said Dr. Alexander Steffanell, associate professor of Spanish and director of the Latin American Studies program at Lee. “They love learning new vocabulary and mingling with the natives of these countries as a whole family.”

Steffanell has been offering a Spanish course through Lee’s Encore program since 2013, where students aged 60 and above can explore a variety of courses either for credit or for fun.

Steffanell teaches the first month of the class each semester and then turns the class over to two Spanish majors at Lee, Hannah White and Michael McGrath.

“I’ve learned a lot about teaching strategies in this class,” said White. “I want to teach high school Spanish someday, so this class has given me the opportunity to experiment with lessons and ways of explaining the topics.”

The Encore students’ willingness to learn and practice the language in everyday life leaves an impression on the Spanish majors as well.

“While teaching this class I have learned the most from the students,” said McGrath. “I have been able to find a lot of good role models in my students. When I am older, I want to stay active and keep learning just like them. Their desire to learn has inspired me.”

Encore students’ reasons for taking the class vary from person to person, but the group remains interested in continuing their Spanish education.

“It has been a joyous experience learning Spanish,” said Jeff Morelock, an Encore student in the class. “My wife and I traveled to El Salvador on a Habitat for Humanity trip and to Costa Rica on a cross-culture trip. I told my wife after El Salvador that I would like to learn Spanish. That was over two years ago. Since then, I have taken what will soon be six courses with two of those being at Lee through the Encore program.”

Many of the students enrolled in the Spanish class have sought ways to implement their language abilities in countries such as Colombia and Guatemala. According to Steffanell, Encore student Dudley Pyeatt will embark on an eight-week session of Spanish language in Guatemala, motivated by the Encore class.

“We had an absolutely incredible experience,” said Phyllis Tilden, one of the Encore students who traveled to Colombia. “Though we had limited Spanish skills, we delighted in trying to converse and had some success. You never really know a culture until you know its language. Even limited language gives you insights to values and behaviors. I’ve found my mind and heart to be wide open to other viewpoints and ways of doing things.”

Steffanell is passionate about the class and encourages his students to embrace as much of the language and culture as possible. He wants them to understand that the Hispanic culture is broad and varies from country to country. Each Spanish-speaking country has a different culture and dialect. However, respect for senior citizens unites the Hispanic culture.

“We highly respect our grandparents because they are the foundation of our culture, and our culture is passed on to us through oral traditions such as table conversations and storytelling,” said Steffanell.

The students value Steffanell’s knowledge of different cultures and hope to use his insight in the future, especially as they embark on journeys in Spanish-speaking countries on their own.

“I want to be able to communicate when traveling around the United States and during any future opportunities to travel to Spanish-speaking countries in Central and South America,” said Jane Lucchesi, an Encore student. “Dr. Steffanell’s information on Latino cities, regions, countries, and diverse cultures has been invaluable.”

The Encore program at Lee invites scholars to enrich their lives through experiencing the academic excellence and Christ-centered atmosphere of the university. No special educational background or records are required.

For more information about Lee’s Encore program, visit Encore or call 423-614-8598.
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