Ashleigh Hess, a 2009 Oklahoma Christian University Honors Program graduate, has left Oklahoma to explore the Spanish world.
Ashleigh began learning Spanish as a second language when she was 12 years old … and soon fell in love with the culture.
During her time at Oklahoma Christian, Ashleigh taught English to several Spanish-speaking staff members and helped start Spanish Chapel. She was involved in numerous educational and cultural organizations, including Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), Spanish Club and programs through the Department of Language and Literature.
“I came to OC with a goal to major in teaching English, with an interest in studying Spanish, and with a desire to learn so I’d be prepared for my future,” Ashleigh said. “But my education at OC became about much more than a career. My mentors and professors in the Language and Literature department really challenged me to use my interests and passions as a way to serve my community and show the love of Christ to others.”
Ashleigh said she always dreamed of traveling to Spain after all the time she spent learning about the Spanish culture.
“It was the most exotic, yet familiar place I could think of,” Ashleigh said. “There is a Czech proverb that says, ‘Learn a new language, get a new soul.’ For me, learning Spanish was not just a subject in school, but a connection.”
OC faculty members encouraged Ashleigh to study abroad, so she applied to the Latin American Studies Program in Costa Rica through the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU).
“This is something that forever marked my heart, leaving it not only in Costa Rica, but also in Panama and Nicaragua,” Ashleigh said. “It was life-changing to learn about political, religious and economic history, sustainable living, indigenous cultures and languages, as well as the day-to-day lives of the people through the eyes of another culture and the ears of another language.”
Those experiences led Ashleigh to work towards her Master of Arts in Spanish and Latin American Studies at American University in Washington, D.C.
“Not only did I dive into criticizing and writing about the literature of Latin America, literature became the outlet for learning about how historical happenings play out in today’s Spanish-speaking world and how Spanish speakers in Latin America, North America and Spain are connected,” she said.
Ashleigh said her time in graduate school led her to become involved in a local D.C. community of El Salvadorian adolescents, giving her an outlook on life from a multicultural perspective.
A friend introduced her to the Teaching English in Spain Program, an opportunity that would allow Ashleigh to live out her dream of traveling to Spain.
Ashleigh is now in her second year at a primary bilingual school in Madrid. She teaches English to students from all over the globe, including Columbia, Israel, Morocco, Peru and Romania. She teaches students whose first languages are Arabic, English, Hebrew, Romanian or Spanish.
“It’s been everything but easy, yet one of the most beautiful experiences,” Ashleigh said. “It’s truly a job that I connect to. Teaching in a school provides me with a learning curve unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m relearning everything that we learn in elementary school and subsequently forget.”
Ashleigh said learning is a lifelong process, and that she learns more as a teacher all the time. She said she sees the opportunity to create a successful environment for students to learn, think, understand and communicate, while giving teachers the tools to educate globally-minded citizens through diverse experiences.
“I want my life to be rooted in my faith and my love for God,” she said. “My faith is what carries me to serve multicultural and multilingual students and communities, and help them continue to grow.”
Ashleigh has the opportunity to pursue a doctorate, focusing on educational anthropology or education and cultural studies. One of her former OC professors, Dr. Scott LaMascus, has consulted Ashleigh in her application to Ph.D. programs.
LaMascus, now OC’s vice president for academic affairs, said Ashleigh’s academic history, fieldwork experience, and heart and soul make Ashleigh a great Ph.D. candidate. He also said she is a wonderful example of OC’s mission.
“I’m definitely on a journey,” Ashleigh said. “Whether that journey will lead me to pursuing a Ph.D., teaching in my hometown, or exploring more about political and economic impacts in Latin America, I’m unsure. But God is using me in all of these things to connect with people in a one-to-one level, creating relationships and relating his love.”
By Kelly Ferguson