Monica M.

"Go abroad! Join an international student organization! Try listening to music and watching TV/movies in the language you are trying to learn! And lastly, while in Madison, take advantage of the incredibly international community that is available to you."

Major(s) and Certificate(s): International Studies, Environmental Studies

Language(s): Portuguese & Spanish

Graduation Year: 2011

Current Location: Chicago, IL 

What have you done since graduating from UW-Madison?

Upon graduating, I was awarded an internship grant by the University of Wisconsin Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Program to complete a six-month internship with a feminist organization called La Fundación Entre Mujeres (FEM) in Estelí, Nicaragua. FEM promotes political, ideological and economic empowerment of rural women living in the mountainous region of northern Nicaragua. During this time, I participated in workshops and training on women’s empowerment, economic development projects, anti-violence against women campaigns and community organizing to support equality for rural women in the area. My time at FEM focused on the unique challenges faced by women in Nicaragua, however, the experience made me consider the positive impact I could have in my own community back at home. I returned from Nicaragua to live in Chicago and started working at the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). NIJC is a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers through direct legal services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. I first served as a paralegal under the Immigrant Children’s Project, where I provided legal presentations and services to detained unaccompanied immigrant children. In 2014, I transferred to NIJC’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project and eventually into a position splitting my time with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Pro Bono Project as a Department of Justice Accredited Representative. This accreditation has given me the pleasure and challenge of representing clients before the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on applications and interviews for visas, permanent residency and citizenship. Since January 2017, I have been coordinating compliance and implementation on NIJC’s newly created Legal Protection Fund as a Compliance & Implementation Specialist. This project is funded by the City of Chicago in order to expand access to immigration legal services for city residents.

What motivated you to study this/these languages?

Though I was awful at grammar portion of my AP Spanish class, I loved the literature portion. I think that cultivated my curiosity about Latin American culture and history and in turn my desire to travel abroad.

How have these languages enriched your life?

Being fluent in Spanish and capable in Brazilian Portuguese allowed me to live, travel, study and work abroad. On a social level, these experiences have allowed me to meet people with completely different perspectives who have become lifelong friends. On a personal level, these experiences challenged me in a way that allowed me to come to learn a lot about myself and what I value. Likewise, being fluent in a second language allowed me to be hired by the National Immigrant Justice Center, and the work I have done there has been very fulfilling.

What do you remember about your UW language classes? How were they different from other classes you took?

I remember that my language classes were the most social! Whether it was heading to bate papo (language table) after Portuguese class or using games or fun conversation to break us out of our shyness in Spanish class, language classes were always a fun time.

How valuable were your out-of-classroom experiences?

I can’t say enough about my study abroad experience. I studied abroad in Lima, Peru for one semester as an undergraduate. That was my first time traveling on my own, and what an amazing, challenging, and fun experience! The independence I gained through living in Lima gave me a confidence I had never felt before. It challenged me to master the Spanish language and encouraged me to travel much more and start studying a third language. Beyond studying abroad, I was involved with internationally-geared student organizations such as Building Relationships in Diverse Global Environments (BRIDGE), UW-Madison Greater University Tutoring Service (GUTS) Conversational English Tutoring, Empowerment and Development through Gender Equality Student Organization (EDGE) Project and also worked as a Student Assistant in the UW-Madison Latin American, Caribbean & Iberian Studies Program (LACIS). These all allowed me to work with diverse groups and expand my understanding of different cultures.

How have you maintained or improved your language(s) since graduation?  

I was fortunate to find employment that required me to speak Spanish every day. Beyond that, maintaining friendships with my friends abroad has gone a long way to help me keep it up!

What advice do you have for current language students?

Go abroad! Join an international student organization! Try listening to music and watching TV/movies in the language you are trying to learn! And lastly, while in Madison, take advantage of the incredibly international community that is available to you.

What is your favorite word or phrase in a language you know?

cachivaches (means junk in Spanish, as in, ‘get your junk out of my way!’)