Spanish Student Testimonials

In Plaza de la Revolu ción, Havana, Cuba 
Jordy Francisco

Majors: CRJ & SOC with a MINOR in Spanish
2019 Study Abroad: CUBA

Coming from a culture where Spanish was already my first language, many people frequently asked me “why take Spanish as a minor?” Many thought it was because it was an “Easy A”. Let me tell you there is nothing easy about the Spanish curriculum at Canisius University. The professors in the department challenged me greatly. For me, the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures helped me reconnect with my culture/heritage in a campus where that was basically nonexistent.

In general, reconnecting with my culture, through classes, service learning, dual immersion, field trips, and study abroad (Cuba!), allowed me to move past my fears of what my community would think about me being a gay Hispanic man. I learned so much about how horribly both the Latinx/Hispanic and the LGBTQ community are treated and how many are fighting for their rights. Having professors who are dedicated to both Latinx and LGBTQ rights was very important for my own validation. In those moments, hiding didn’t seem to be an option I was okay with anymore.

Through this department I was able to bring a little bit of home back to Canisius and also allow others to learn about my culture/heritage.

Taking Spanish courses at Canisius helped me strengthen my language skills and cultural knowledge, and helped me feel comfortable and proud both as a gay man and as a Hispanic, regardless of the environment I was in. I have always felt like my culture is about making connections and ta king this program at Canisius proved just that.

Alexa Spanish Canisius
Alexa Valdez
  • BA 2018 (Spanish, Communication and Leadership, Human Services)
  • MA 2019

I’m a program director in New York City where I run an after-school program and I run a camp unit in the summer.

Being Latina, I always thought a major in Spanish or even knowing Spanish wasn’t enough to find a job, these days it’s what’s giving my job meaning.  I would truly not have a job if it weren’t for picking up Spanish.

 In the past, I kept thinking “hmmmm, I don’t really see how essential majoring in Spanish would be.” The amount of times I’ve had to translate documents or contact Spanish-only speaking households to check on kids and families, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, shows me just how important it is to study language, even if you are a heritage speaker. I call so many people, and as soon as I tell them they can talk to me in Spanish, their tone of voice changes and everything is okay.  This fills my heart with so much joy! I’m so proud to have majored in Spanish because the opportunities I have received as a result of studying Spanish at Canisius . . . my skills are viewed as essential especially in my job, and I have been overjoyed! 

I’m not going to lie . . .  at first majoring in Spanish just seemed like an easy A and an easy major to pick up. BUT the study abroad experiences in Argentina, Cuba, and Spain helped expand my cultural awareness and opened me up to new experiences.  Then the major helped me excel at being able to speak and especially be able to write and make sense.

katie johnson
Katie Johnson
  • BA, Spanish & EDU 2014
  • Lives in Brooklyn now.

Before starting at Canisius, I knew that I liked Spanish and had taken AP Spanish in high school but wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue it during college. I took my first Spanish class and still wasn’t entirely sure. It wasn’t until I took my first culture class that I began to really enjoy being in class. We not only learned the language of Spanish, but we were able to dive into the art, culture, music, film. This deepened my appreciation and love not only for the language, but also the culture. I spent a semester in Spain and took classes in Spanish that were focused on art and history I also travelled with Campus Ministry to Ecuador. If not for the professors at Canisius for opening my eyes, I don’t think that I would have even considered going abroad and immersing myself in this way. 

I worked for 4 years as a teacher and am now a (soon to be) social worker.  I am graduating this month! --in a week, technically—, and will be working as a COVID contact tracer for the time being because it allows me to work from home, a lot of flexibility as I am getting married in the fall –at Canisius—, hopefully still, and need a lot of time off!

Knowing Spanish has had a tremendous impact on the work that I do with my students and clients. I work with clients who are at such a low point in their lives. Even though I am not fluent, I practice my language skills, which in turn makes them feel comfortable speaking with me. Together we laugh as I struggle to remember words that I learned 10 years ago, but eventually it all comes back. Majoring in Spanish at Canisius helped me to not be afraid to put myself out there and TRY. I may not be the best, but I am not afraid to try and get better. 

No. Tengo. Miedo. Gracias a los profesores de Canisius por todo.

Abigail Schwenk ‘18 
abby schwenk

Being a member of the Modern Languages Department at Canisius, specifically in the Spanish Department, was one of the most rewarding experiences that I have been given in life. The professors are engaging during classes and outside of classes during the numerous culture-focused events and trips. They are collaborative with their students and are truly dedicated to help you develop your potential in speaking the language and in being a culturally educated human. The classes offered are focused on interesting and thought-provoking topics, and the topics open your mind to underlying themes across centuries in literature, art, society, and life. The connections that I made through this department at Canisius afforded me two opportunities to travel through different regions of Spain in completing the Camino de Santiago in Galicia and observing Roman and Arab historical influences in the region of Andalucía. Most impactful of all, the connections provided me the chance to complete an internship and live in the beautiful city of Cuenca, Spain for four months after graduating in May 2018.
Without the experience of living and traveling throughout Spain, as well as participating in and planning numerous cultural events during my time at Canisius, I would not be able to interact with and help the many Latinx homeless youth that I am currently working with at a homeless shelter in New York City, including youth that are released from ICE detention centers. I also plan to utilize my Spanish as I work with Spanish-speaking patients throughout medical school and when I am a doctor. Because of my experience in the Spanish Department at Canisius, I am able to make connections that would have never been possible otherwise.

Geovaira H canisius
Geovaira Hernandez᾽17, MS ᾽19

Geovaira Hernandez fights for environmental justice for the most vulnerable. She is proud to be a part of the reason that New York State recently passed the most progressive and aggressive climate legislation in the country. The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, or CLCPA, calls for 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

As climate and environmental justice organizer for PUSH Buffalo, Hernandez advocates for change at the local, state and national level. She develops curriculum for the local community on environmental policy, racism and classism.

Read More

Nicole- Why I Studied Spanish, Summed Up in a TikTok Video

Miriam Trojanovic


"Thank you to Dr. Reitsma for expanding my horizons more than I could have imagined. Volunteering with Justice for Migrant Families has proven to be a door opening opportunity for me, including familiarity with ICE, current immigration policies and the relevant experiences that go along with that.

So far, I have had two internship interviews in Spanish, I am proud of that fact in itself. Even though I was a strong proponent of knowing Spanish and any other language before, I stress that more so, now that I have seen how valuable and useful it really is -- beyond self edification or intellectual satisfaction. 

Keep doing Skype sessions, push studying abroad, and stress that the most unexpected (or uncomfortable) experiences might end up being the most valuable. 

Hasta luego, y todavía esperando viajar a México o Cuba o cualquier país hispanohablante contigo algún día."


Liz Harter

Liz Harter

I entered my freshman year of Canisius as a Spanish major taking pre-med classes. I thought that Spanish would be useful in the field of medicine and I had always enjoyed it in high school. What I didn't know was just how much being a part of the Spanish program at Canisius would positively impact my life.

Taking Spanish at Canisius was more than simply being part of a class. The small group discussions and intimate relationships with the professors encourage students to contribute to conversations. Both Dr. Reitsma and Dr. Stefanski strive to take students to a deeper level in Spanish by having them study the distinct and diverse cultures that stem from one of the most spoken languages in the world.

This passion for the culture behind the language was what prompted me to travel more. I studied abroad in both Italy and Spain and moved to Chile after graduation to volunteer and teach English. Spanish has become a beloved part of my personal and professional life and I aspire to one day work permanently in Argentina.

Learning and perfecting a language is never an easy task and at times it can be easy to give up. The Canisius University Spanish Department goes above and beyond to help students not only succeed, but also to develop a deep love and appreciation for everything the language stands for. From my point of view, I cannot recommend enough the Spanish program at Canisius and the fine people who lead it.



Jess DePasquale
My Spanish experience at Canisius was fulfilling and afforded me many opportunities. The courses, professors, and new experiences have led me to be the person I am today. I was able to take an abundance of intersecting classes discussing a wide range of topics - from Latin American dictatorships, to Don Quixote, to human sexuality. The professors stimulated my interest in the language and the cultures of Spanish speaking countries. I form personal relations with all of my professors, and truly came to admire them on both professional and personal levels. They inspired me to study in Spain, and later to volunteer in Chile after graduating with my degree. Both of these periods in my life were crucial in forming my outlook on the world and my perception of the world community I truly belong to. The program also offers many different cultural services such as film festivals, writers, musicians, etc. Since having graduated last May, I have taught English in Chile and returned to Buffalo. I am currently saving money to study a Master’s Degree this coming fall in Public Administration. I also volunteer my time with the Hispanic Heritage Council of Buffalo working on history projects which celebrate the Latino heritage in Buffalo. I definitely plan to utilize my Spanish degree in my prospective career, hopefully to help Hispanic populations or promote Hispanic culture.


Jessica Yañez

I fell in love with the program, my professors, my literature class, and the assistants who quickly became our best friends and guides. I fell in love with the crowded but beautiful beaches filled with vendors yelling “churros, churros” and the beautiful graffiti and old buildings that were around every corner. I fell in love with cafes that were more numerous than anything else in the city, the street names that were named after dates (25 de septiembre), and with the panadería that I visited every day for lunch to buy medialunas, chipas, tartas, tortas, ensaladas, and churros filled with dulce de leche.

I loved learning the true definition of “sport fanatic” at a Boca vs. Racing fútbol (soccer) game as we learned some colorful chants and songs, heckling the other team and urging ours to victory. I loved the ranch that we visited one day, La Casualidad, where we got to enjoy an asado and eat more meat than we ever thought possible in one meal, got an extreme sunburn, played human foosball, took archery lessons, fawned over some puppies, watched traditional Argentinean dance and a magician with no personal boundaries, and got lost for what seemed like hours in a hedge maze.

I loved taking in the culture as I watched an urban tango show featuring the most incredible dancers and athletes that I have ever seen in my life,  walking through the artisan’s market, going to see the hilarious play El Fausto Criollo, taking tango classes with people that I’ve never met but who were so welcoming and helpful.

I fell in love with the conversations that I had where I heard different ideas and learned so much about culture, language, and politics. I fell in love with my friends from the hostel with whom I would give English lessons to in exchange for Spanish tips, drawing words in the sand on the beach for practice; and the other exchange students from NYC who became our peers and friends.

And of course, my love for the Spanish language grew more every single day, as did my Spanish skills. Even with the famous Argentine accent marking every “ll” sound with a “zsh” and the initial confusion of how to use “vos”, or learning the words that are distinctly Argentine “frutilla” NOT “fresa”, and “boliche” NOT club, “che” and “genial”.

My last day in Mar del Plata was a gift from “snowstorm Jonas” that hit NYC because of which I had to move my flight. I could not have asked for a more perfect last day.  I spent the entire day in the warm sun walking along the beautiful coast, taking in the sights and trying to capture them in my memory. I then spent the night at an open bonfire on the beach with a huge group of people – the majority of whom did not know each other (including me)- dancing, talking, singing, and celebrating the full moon. 

My experience in Mar del Plata was not easy and was full of surprises. As somebody who is used to travelling on their own and does not typically like city environments, I started out with hesitations. After completing the program though, I would not trade my experience or friendships for anything. That is what a study abroad experience is all about; learning to talk the talk and dance the dance - fully immersing yourself, speaking the language constantly, learning and hearing different perspectives, and facing challenges head on. In four weeks I quickly fell in love with Mar del Plata, a place that was initially completely out of my comfort zone. The only thing that made it easier to leave was promising myself that I would be returning as soon as I possibly can. I am now counting down the days until graduation and until I can return. 76 and counting…


Alexandria Iwanenko

I have had the great opportunity of being extremely involved in the Spanish program at Canisius. Declaring a Spanish major as my third major with International Relations and Latin American Studies was easier than I ever expected and was one of the best decisions I could have made. My most memorable experience was living with a host family in Costa Rica for 5 weeks. Not only was I completely immersed in the Costa Rican culture, but I also took a class at La Universidad Latina and completed an internship at Habitat for Humanity. I am also hoping to travel to Argentina in the winter with the Spanish program. There are so many opportunities to get involved and become a better Spanish speaker, especially when we Skype with students from around the world in Spanish during our conversation classes. Entering my senior year at Canisius will be bittersweet, but I know I will be well prepared to use Spanish in any situation presented to me.


Neil Savoy

My experience with the Department of Modern Languages defined my collegiate experience. By working on a foreign language I improved my public speaking skills, ability to present in front of my peers, and exposed myself to new ideas. I was able to practice outside the classroom not only through my assignments but through tertulias during which native Spanish speakers sat down with us to practice. As a part of the Spanish program, I studied abroad in Spain for an entire academic year, living in Oviedo and Madrid. While there, my Spanish skills skyrocketed as I fully immersed myself into Spanish culture. In addition to these opportunities, the department works tirelessly to bring Latino speakers to campus and the classroom, allowing us to dive even deeper into our work. Lastly, as a student in the Canisius Earning Excellence Program, I was able to work alongside one of my favorite professors, Dr. Richard D. Reitsma, in bringing various speakers to campus, preparing classroom materials, and other work.


Francesca Velardi

Growing up with a Spanish teacher as a mother you would think I would have been born with a natural appreciation for the Spanish language. However, this was not the case. I had just about given up on Spanish, to my mother’s dismay, until I started taking Spanish classes at Canisius. My first Spanish professor, Dr. Reitsma, had such a passion for teaching and the language that I became engrossed in the Spanish department. After taking a couple classes with Dr. Reitsma I decided to become a Spanish minor. From my experience with the Spanish department, I have not only met individuals from other countries, such as Ecuador and Colombia, I also was able to experience other cultures. I was fortunate enough to have studied abroad with Dr. Reitsma in Costa Rica. Costa Rica was an incredible opportunity, and a study abroad unlike many offered at other institutions. I was able to live with a host family, take classes at the local university, shadow at the University of Costa Rica School of Dental Medicine, and intern with a dentist. This program introduced me to dentistry in a Spanish setting, and I am incredibly grateful that I can now speak about dentistry in Spanish. My time in Costa Rica was truly an invaluable experience and one that has helped shape me into the individual I am today. My debt to Dr. Reitsma and the Spanish department is one I could never repay. They have ignited a fire in me that I never knew existed and I know that through my experience with the Canisius Spanish Department I have become a better person, and what I have learned will make me a better practitioner.


Matt Mullin, MBA

There’s a growing consensus that taking STEM classes will best prepare you for the world ahead. While my MBA is helpful to my current finance job, it would be
naïve, even ignorant to ignore the benefits that studying Spanish at Canisius provided. Exposing yourself to the difficulties of learning another language is not just a task in memorization and application. While studying Spanish at Canisius with Drs. Reitsma and Stefanski, I learned this skill goes beyond simple language abilities. It challenges your comfort level, changes your perspective, enhances your self-awareness, while coincidentally making a better speaker of English out of yourself. I had the fortunate opportunity to study abroad 4 times as an undergrad—3 in Spanish language territories—and not a day goes by where I don’t sincerely believe I was affected by some event, class, or experience from one of these trips.

Dr. Reitsma taught me how to analyze a text in a foreign language. He guided me through my 70+ page Honors Thesis written in Spanish. He got me in contact with authors, poets, Cuban economists and politicians, and Argentine literary scholars. He molded his teaching to expand on my interests and vice versa.

There are the practical/business applications of Spanish: the growing demographic of native Spanish speakers in the US and the marketability of using Spanish as a means to acquire new clients/markets. Some clients I have are entirely owed to having spoken Spanish. This is evidence enough to justify studying. Still, there is a deeper reason to study a foreign language: you create a second self; the very way you think is altered. While entirely true, to say studying Spanish at Canisius opens doors just in the business world is a disservice to its full impact on my life.


Kelsey McKneight

My Spanish experience at Canisius University was awesome! I studied abroad for two semesters- one in Oviedo and one in Madrid. Both were amazing. Oviedo is a small city but is beautiful and VERY Spanish. Madrid is more central and allows you to travel more. Anyway, the classes were great. I enjoyed reading all the books and watching the movies from Professor Reitsma's classes especially!! Very fun. Especially when he was able to get the authors into class and we could talk with them!! I was exposed to so many different cultures throughout Latin America and Spain. Now I am actually an analyst at M&T Bank as my second degree was in business. I plan to use Spanish in my future.  I also met my husband when I studied abroad in Spain!


Kaitlin Yeager

I graduated from Canisius in May 2015 with a double major in Math and Spanish. I've loved Spanish since I started studying it in middle school but my love for the language and culture only grew during my time at Canisius. Spanish is spoken all over the world but the whole world doesn't speak the same Spanish. I really benefitted from having professors at Canisius that spoke both Spain Spanish and Latin American Spanish so that I got a taste of all different types of Spanish. The department offered a variety of Spanish activities outside of class but my favorite was always the Ibero-American Film Festival. We got to watch different Spanish movies every week, hand picked by the professors, which helped to not only practice our Spanish outside of class, but also learn about the culture.

With this being said, I think that everybody's favorite semester is their study abroad semester. I studied abroad in Oviedo, Spain and not only got to explore a new place and meet new people, but also got to watch my Spanish grow and improve exponentially in the five months of taking all my classes in Spanish, doing an internship at a Spanish school and living with the most incredible Spanish host mother. I am forever grateful that Canisius offered such an excellent study abroad program and provided for me such a life changing experience.

Since graduating, I've been living and working back in Oviedo, Spain as an auxiliar de conversación or language assistant in a K-12 school. Besides giving English lessons to the children everyday, everything else that I do in my daily life, from my taxes to grocery shopping, is done in Spanish. Although I've worked and studied very hard, I would not be able to work and live in Spain if it weren't for the Spanish education I received at Canisius. From the study abroad opportunities, to the ways that my language and cultural awareness increased, and finally to the way that the professors genuinely cared about my education, my Spanish experience at Canisius was second to none.