Rachel Leake (left) in Spain with some of her host mom’s extended family, ready for Christmas dinner last year. CONTRIBUTED

Spanish embassy lauds Cedarville senior

She is one of 13 such ambassadors nationwide.

Rachel Leake, a senior at Cedarville University in Greene County, will bring enriching experiences to her future Spanish language classroom, plus the title of 2017 Student Ambassador of the Year, awarded by a Spanish Embassy program.

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Since a yearlong study program in Spain, Leake has promoted Spanish culture and study as an ambassador; of 13 ambassadors around the country (the only one in Ohio) she’s thrilled that her award includes a week in Spain before she moves into a teaching position.

Her hometown is York, N.Y.

Leake stayed with a host mom in Valencia, Spain, during her sophomore year, and, in addition to her studies, was exposed to many Spanish experiences, including her favorite, a family Christmas.

“We went to my host mom’s parents’ house in Palencia, in northern Spain, and her whole family was there, including aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews,” she said. “In some ways it was similar to my family’s Christmas, but there weren’t trees in the houses. Every town had a Christmas tree in the middle of town.

“We woke up the grandparents on Christmas morning and sang to them, had churros for breakfast, and our main meal was shrimp and lamb. After opening presents and lunch, we went ice-skating. Most towns set up a rink in the winter months.”

Her “mom” and friends she made wandered with her through Valencia, showing her historical sites, cafes and shops frequented by residents, and other points of interest.

Dr. Andrew Wiseman, director of International Programs at Cedarville, said, “The program in Spain is designed as an immersion program.

“We help the students adjust to the country, since it is not only the language they have to deal with, but also the food, family life, cultural signals and more.

“Rachel immediately dove into the Spanish language and life here. At the end of the year, her Spanish level had gone from an intermediate level to a superior, practically fluent speaker. In addition, her cultural intuitiveness was sharpened.”

On her return to the states, she was informed by Wiseman of the ambassador program, sponsored by SiS (Study in Spain), an education branch of the Spanish Embassy’s Spain-Trade Commission, and asked to apply; she did, and became a 2017 student ambassador with the Spanish embassy of Miami.

“Our purpose was to get students involved in programs to study in Spain and to promote the Spanish culture,” she said. “Every month, we were given an assignment — holidays, colleges, vocabulary, fun things to do — and a prize was awarded each month.”

Leake, who received three of the nine monthly awards, promoted Spain through events on campus, Twitter and Instagram, and a Facebook page where she posted such things as photos of food, places she visited, festivals and fairs, vocabulary, Spanish indie bands, information on scholarships and grants, and reflections on her experiences – some in English, some in Spanish, and others in both.

“I knew about the Ambassador of the Year award, but never expected to win, so was surprised when I was named in August,” she said. “I was invited to the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) Annual Convention and World Languages Expo in November, and gave my acceptance speech in Spanish.”

Barbara Loach, her Cedarville Spanish professor and academic advisor, was impressed with Leake even in her freshman year, and encouraged her to study abroad. “She had a good foundation, and since Spain, she’s really become a Spanish speaker, comfortable with communicating in the language.”

Loach is currently observing Leake as she does her pre-student teaching field experience at Springfield Shawnee High School. “I’m impressed with her understanding of how to teach already. She’s doing a lot of good things in the classroom.”

When Leake returns to Spain this summer for her prize week, she’ll visit her friends and “mom,” who she’s kept in touch with, and will see other parts of Spain. She’s currently looking at teaching positions in Chicago and New York state.

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Contact this contributing writer at virgburroughs@gmail.com.