Group picture from Spanish department reunion at Eastern Mennonite University
Eastern Mennonite University/M Esther Showalter

IVEPer Omar Borja Perea from Colombia, back row in red hat, is pictured with past and current Spanish professors as well as conversation partners during a reunion event at Eastern Mennonite University.

Every year, MCC partners with the Spanish department at Eastern Mennonite University. The IVEP participants bring so much energy and life to our learning community. Each semester the students say that their time with the IVEPers is one of the highlights in their process of learning Spanish. The IVEPers main role is to facilitate conversational skills with the elementary and intermediate students.

When Omar Borja Perea first arrived on our campus, he didn’t have much to do. I told him to enjoy the quietness because soon he will be extremely busy. Soon after, he noticed that his schedule got full and he was ready to embrace the challenge.

At the beginning of every day, Omar showed up to his conversation sessions with a big smile. His grace and joy made the students comfortable and not afraid of starting the difficult journey of learning a language. If you were in our building, you could always hear all the laughter going on during the 25-minute sessions. On any given day, you could find Omar meeting with one or two students throughout the day. Occasionally he would have an open spot that students had not signed up for, but that gave Omar a chance to recharge and be ready to have a good time with his students again.

Omar took advantage of every opportunity that came his way. Omar’s students enjoyed exchanging pronunciation tips and creating sentences. Omar would gently say a word over and over in Spanish and his students would do the same with an English word. At the end of a session, you could see that both grew closer with a big smile of accomplishment. That celebration soon became a daily routine. At the end of the semester, they were both surprised how much they have learned in comparison to the first week when they first met. The main language of communication was smiling and very basic words because the vocabulary was still limited. Patience and hard work paid off after a couple of months.

As a result, they could relax and exchange stories. The students particularly enjoyed listening to a phenomenal "Christmas in Latin America" presentation that Omar gave. Omar grabbed a tambourine and maracas and started singing some of the traditional Hispanic Christmas carols. Omar also shared those same stories at the Christmas gathering that our department had at the end of the year. We were all thankful for Omar’s gifts and presence among us.