Katie Kraus

Experiential learning is a unique approach to education requiring creativity, initiative, and problem-solving skills applied to real-life situations. One major takeaway from experiential learning is the ability to reflect on successes, mistakes and outcomes of your applied work.

I am completing my final year of my undergraduate degree at Dalhousie and I have learned more through my Spanish Experiential Learning course than I have in any other educational setting. This course gave me the opportunity to work with the Halifax Refugee Clinic doing translations and interpretations for Spanish-speaking refugees. The Halifax Refugee Clinic provides legal advice and representation for refugee claimants in Nova Scotia. I was able to apply my Spanish skills translating legal documents and interpreting conversations to facilitate communication between clients and the Clinic. I also secured a placement through the HRM Public Library program helping a Colombian family adjust to life in Halifax. I spent time helping them with their English, interpreting at their bank or local community centres, and helping with everyday activities that we take for granted as native English speakers and Canadian citizens.

Through my experiences, translating documents at the Halifax Refugee Clinic forced me to apply my translation skills I learned in the Spanish Translation course I took a few years ago. I was required to think critically and take advantage of resources available to me to complete the translation to my best ability. In terms of interpreting, I applied this skill with a Cuban refugee and the family multiple times. Interpreting is very challenging but it is not a skill you can build in a classroom. It is most effective to take the experiential learning approach and practice in a hands-on scenario. I not only improved tremendously in my Spanish translation and interpretation skills, I also established a great connection with the Refugee Clinic. I am looking forward to continuing my work with them in 2018. Being interested in law, this was also beneficial for me as I was introduced to immigration policies and information through this unique experience.

Emerging myself in new and unfamiliar situations challenged me to learn through a very personal perspective that was driven by the immediate need to apply my skills. While working with the family I was able to work on my listening and conversational skills while they also taught me a lot of vocabulary. While they were learning English, I was also learning Spanish and more about Colombian culture. This provided me with more cultural competence and an ability to use interpersonal skills and understand others better. I have established an excellent relationship with this family and we look forward to continuing our mutually beneficial friendship to help each other with our language skills beyond the class requirements.

Through the implementation of this participatory learning method, I have greatly improved my Spanish skills and have worked on my personal development. I strongly believe experiential learning is a great way to apply skills learned in class, gain valuable experience in the community, and make lasting connections. The course itself required a lot of self-initiative, organization, time-management, and motivation from the students. There was an incredible amount of support from Professor John Kirk; however, the expectation is for the students to take initiative and secure placements while holding themselves accountable for completing the requirements. The reflective nature of the experiential learning process reinforces the learning process and I was consistently evaluating my learning experience. I am looking forward to continuing my Spanish learning through more hands-on approaches and by putting myself out there to make the most of my learning experiences.