When students in Maria Ramos’ Spanish language classes have difficulty conjugating a verb or distinguishing between two Spanish homonyms, she responds with empathy born of experience.
Born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, Ramos’ parents, an engineer and school principal, believed it was important to expose their children to different cultures. At 12, Ramos spent the summer with a host family in Fargo, North Dakota.
“It was a rough emersion. They didn’t speak Spanish and I didn’t speak English,” relates Ramos. “But it’s what set me on the road to learning English.”
Ramos’ students have had it a bit easier when they travel to Guadalajara on the study abroad trip she happily inherited when she joined Macomb’s faculty 10 years ago. The students have already taken Spanish language classes and their professor meets with them every day to provide support and encouragement. And, best of all, they have classmates to share the experience with.
“I have students who call a year or two after a trip and thank me for introducing them to their best friend, as well as another culture,” relates Ramos. “It’s an exhausting couple of weeks when I’m there, but how can I not do this? I’m so happy the college supports this, because it’s such a life changer for many of the students.”
Next year, Ramos is changing up the itinerary and taking Spanish students to Oaxaca, in southwestern Mexico, known for its Pre-Columbian ruins and Zapotec art.
“It’s one of the most culturally rich places in Mexico, and it’s smaller than Guadalajara,” says Ramos, who also takes the lead on Macomb’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) commemoration in late October each year. “I will be a little more at ease with those students who are so adventurous.”
Ramos earned her bachelor’s degree in Mexico and studied Spanish language and literature at Florida Barry University, in Miami, before moving to Michigan. She completed her master’s degree and Ph.D. at Wayne State University.
In a nod to her own upbringing, Ramos and her husband, Kevin Link, are raising their son, Andrés, to be bilingual and multicultural. Ramos takes him to Guadalajara at least twice a year to visit his grandparents and the family has traveled to Europe, Latin America and, this year, Iceland.
“I love running, reading, teaching and traveling,” says Ramos. “Northern Spain is a favorite. I love the food and the culture. But Mexico is home.”
And the same holds true for Macomb.
“I like our students so much. They are so diverse, and some of them don’t have easy lives, but they still come to school every day. Sometimes, I don’t know how they do it,” says Ramos. “They all bring a great perspective to the classroom. I wouldn’t want to teach anywhere else.”