Omar Borja Perea, pictured here enjoying snow for the first time, shares conversational instruction to Eastern Mennonite University's Spanish language learners. The Colombian native is participating in Mennonite Central Committee’s International Volunteer Exchange Program. (Courtesy photo)

Colombian IVEP volunteer helps EMU’s Spanish language learners

Each year, Eastern Mennonite University students in Spanish language courses meet and learn from a native speaker who is participating in Mennonite Central Committee’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP). 

This year, Omar Borja Perea, from Colombia, has brought a special life and laughter to language learning. Here’s what M. Esther Showalter, IVEP supervisor and Spanish instructor at EMU, wrote about Omar in a recent post on Mennonite Central Committee’s Facebook page.

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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 IVEPer’s main role is to facilitate conversational skills with the elementary and intermediate students.

At the beginning of every day, Omar Borja Perea 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 Borja Perea, fourth from right, with faculty and friends of EMU at a Christmas celebration during which he shared traditions of his native Colombia. Omar also spoke to students in EMU Spanish classes as well on the same topic. Front, from left: M. Esther Showalter, Ester Machado, Xiomara Alemán, Ray Horst, Carol Snell-Feikema. Back row: Byron Pellecer, Don Clymer, Wendell Shank, Emilio Fajardo, Omar Borja, José Juan Hernández. (Courtesy photo)

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. Omar grabbed a tambourine and maracas and started singing some of the traditional Hispanic Christmas carols.

We were all thankful for Omar’s gifts and presence among us.

For more information on the program and how your church, business or school can offer a volunteer opportunity, visit mcc.org/get-involved/serve/volunteer/ivep/partners.

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