by Maxen Ryder, Distribution Manager
UMF is welcoming Cortney Benjamin as a new Spanish professor this year. With Benjamin’s experiences visiting Buenos Aires and passion for the Spanish language, she has been labeled as a great addition to the UMF language faculty.
Benjamin has been learning Spanish most of her life. However, she was originally intent on learning French. “I was in middle school and I really wanted to take French, but my mom told me I had to take Spanish since there were more Spanish speaking communities near me when I was growing up. She thought it would be more useful, so I took both,” said Benjamin.
When planning out her young adult life, Benjamin was advised to stick to one language and dive into one culture. “I planned on taking both [Spanish and French] all through college and when it came time to study abroad I was gonna do one semester in Buenos Aires and one semester in Paris, but the study abroad advisor told me it would be a better idea to just pick one place and stick with it the whole year,” said Benjamin.
Originally from North Dakota, Benjamin felt a culture shock while experiencing Buenos Aires. “It was a very big change for me,” said Benjamin. “You know, I’m from Fargo, which is the biggest city in North Dakota, but it’s still not that big. And it’s not a place that people move to from other places. You are either born in North Dakota, or you’ve moved away from North Dakota…But Buenos Aires was huge, and I remember feeling like I had so much freedom.”
However, Buenos Aires was a great influential experience for her. “It’s such a wonderful place,” said Benjamin. “The architecture is so beautiful. It’s a very international city because of the different waves of immigration that came to Buenos Aires. Yeah, it really opened my eyes to living somewhere besides North Dakota.”
These experiences clearly instilled a passion for the language in Benjamin, as noticed by student Rachel Beechin. “I thought she had a real passion for the subject and was always eager to answer questions,” Beechin said.
When first arriving at UMF, Benjamin liked the small, tight-knit liberal arts community. “I think the liberal arts are so important. It’s so important to learn to think creatively and think critically, it’s important to learn how to write well,” said Benjamin. “It seemed like the students really had a voice on campus…and I really like the close relationship between faculty and students on campus.”
Benjamin’s background and values have increased her strengths as a Spanish professor. Alba Fernández, a Spanish teaching assistant, admires Benjamin’s passion for going above and beyond in teaching Spanish.”She teaches from a cultural perspective. She cares a lot about each student. If you have a particular situation and you need help, if you need to Zoom from home, or if you need extra help, she is willing to help,” said Fernández. “Learning a language involves your previous knowledge and your skills depend a lot on your work, but also who’s there on the other side helping you.”
To Fernández, having that personalized attention from the professor can make a difference when learning a new language. “Cortney [Benjamin] really cares about your particular case, not only with your schedule or personal issues and stuff, but she [also] cares about your individual learning process,” said Fernández.
Benjamin has found that the most meaningful benefit for her through teaching is the impact she has on her students. “I think it’s just helping students find their place as a global citizen, to think about themselves as citizens of the world,” said Benjamin.
Benjamin finds herself in a lot of students that haven’t explored the world outside of New England, as she had once been a young person who had never left her home state of North Dakota. “I think language classes are a way to explore the rest of the world in a fun way that may lead to future career opportunities and future travel once the pandemic is over, hopefully,” said Benjamin. “So I think what’s important to me is helping students develop some cultural humility and realize how hard it is to learn another language.”
Because of her experiences studying abroad, she always encourages students to take the opportunity to explore the world while attending UMF during safer circumstances through the international study abroad programs. “Study abroad is so important and it’s so important to what I do,” said Benjamin. “Hopefully, once the pandemic is over, there will be a lot of opportunities for UMF students to study abroad.”
If students are interested in studying abroad, she welcomes students to come to her with any questions they may have. “I’m always available to talk to students about my study abroad experience in Buenos Aires because it was such a life-changing experience for me,” said Benjamin. “It really opened my eyes coming from a more rural area of the United States. I hope that UMF students are able to take part in that sooner rather than later.”
If students are interested in studying abroad, email Lynne Eustis, Assistant Director of Global Education, at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an advising session or visit the Office for Global Education in room 106 in the Fusion Center.