“Here, we strive to recognize volunteers and international participants who embody the courage, grace, and compassion upon which the VISAS community was founded.”
Gracious, poised, humble, and extremely competent. These are just some of the qualities that VISAS intern Izzy Burke radiates. Those who have been fortunate enough to have made her acquaintance would wholeheartedly agree that Izzy takes every endeavor she is a part of to the next level–constantly innovating, improving systems, producing quality products, and making genuine connections wherever she goes. And she’s been at it for a while! Izzy joined VISAS during the first semester of her first year at UVA. She began as a Classroom Consultant and quickly added on additional roles, becoming a moderator in Spring 2017, and later serving as an ESL Classroom Assistant before joining the VISAS intern team.
Izzy cares about VISAS for several reasons. First, Izzy has always been fascinated by educators and teaching. Since elementary school, Izzy says she has had wonderful teachers and professors. “They supported their students, instilled in us a love of learning for the sake of learning itself, and always encouraged me to go above and beyond,” says Izzy. These mentors also ultimately inspired Izzy to seek out opportunities to teach, herself–which is why “volunteering with VISAS has been a perfect fit,” Izzy says. “In this organization, I am constantly learning, adopting the mindset of both teacher and student. It is incredibly rewarding.”
Additionally, Izzy believes that her family background primed her to be drawn to organizations like VISAS that celebrate diversity and promote intercultural exchange. Izzy is a quarter Japanese. Her maternal grandmother, Eiko, emigrated from Japan as a young adult and landed in Detroit where she assimilated to the new culture while raising six kids. This multicultural reference point made Izzy very interested in global affairs and foreign language–two passions which manifested themselves in Izzy’s decision to double major in Japanese and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Things came full circle when Izzy had the chance to study abroad in Hakodate, Japan during Summer 2018. Not only did this adventure allow Izzy to explore her Japanese roots, but she also “got to experience a sliver of what international students experience on a daily basis,” she says. “Studying abroad is thrilling. But now I understand how difficult and draining it can be to juggle life in another language and culture. This has made me a better VISAS volunteer and friend to international students here at UVA.”
One of Izzy’s greatest achievements of her undergraduate career occurred this past semester, when she was able to combine two of her favorite extracurricular involvements into one enriching and educational event for VISAS international participants and ESL learners. As a Fralin Student Docent, Izzy has long noticed a striking parallel between the education philosophies of VISAS and the Museum of Art: both institutions champion accessibility, aiming to give individuals (who might not otherwise feel welcome or supported) practical ways to engage with materials. “For both the Fralin folks and VISAS, the goal is to provide people with a sense of ownership, encouraging them to use visual thinking strategies to draw upon their own lived experiences to make sense of their surroundings,” she says. This gave Izzy a novel idea: “Why not have a training workshop for student art docents on how to cater specifically to ESL learners, so that their tour experience at the Fralin is the best it can possibly be?” On November 17th, 2019, Izzy’s dream became a reality: she, along with the other ESL-trained student docents, guided tours for VISAS participants of the Fralin art exhibits. Her VISAS family could not be more proud of her.
Izzy’s advice to VISAS participants is delightfully down-to-earth: “Get used to being embarrassed when you are learning a new language. As a conscientious (and, at times, self-conscious) person, I have often struggled to engage with native speakers of my target language. I’ve come to realize, however, that you will make mistakes 80% of the time. What has helped me is focusing on approaching the learning process with a good will. Your eagerness and open expressions can convey your meaning more often than not! You may always feel a little uncomfortable or awkward. The key is to embrace it, not take yourself too seriously, and push yourself out of your comfort zone. That is where the fun lies!”
Inquisitive, analytical, and meticulous are three words fourth-year linguistics major Sabrina Moore uses to describe herself. She’s right on target. A natural theoretician, Sabrina is quick to posit thought-provoking ideas, investigate familiar subject matter from new angles, and seek out fresh perspectives with unquenching curiosity and determination. Sabrina’s list is not comprehensive, however. She failed to mention her incredible warmth, wit, enthusiasm, and thoughtfulness–all of which are immediately evident when one enters into conversation with her.
If this sounds like the perfect cocktail of characteristics for a teacher, you would not be off-base. Sabrina’s chief passion is coaching others. Helping people grow and achieve their goals provides Sabrina with a sense of purpose and human connection. Growing up in Northern Virginia, Sabrina was able to tap into this by working as a sailing instructor and historical reenactor at the Claude Moore Colonial Farm. It was not until she found VISAS, however, that Sabrina was able to combine her passion for teaching with her fascination with linguistics. As a transfer student who came to UVA during her third-year, Sabrina was grateful to carve out a home for herself within the VISAS community, where she found peers who valued cultural exchange and applied learning as much as she does. This semester, Sabrina is splitting her time volunteering for the O’Hill Workplace program and as a Language Consultant. In pursuit of her TESOL certificate, Sabrina also serves as an instructional assistant in ESL classrooms, which she finds greatly enriches and informs her VISAS work. After graduating, Sabrina hopes to apply these skills as a forensic linguist (her dream career).
On a personal level, Sabrina is just as multidimensional. A self-proclaimed “super nerd,” Sabrina enjoys practicing classical violin and piano, playing Dungeons & Dragons, and reading sci-fi novels. She is also the publicity manager–and a dedicated member–of Wushu Chinese Martial Arts, a club she joined during her first semester. In fact, some of the most exciting opportunities that have arisen for Sabrina since coming to UVA came in the form of national martial arts competitions. In 2018, she took part in two events at the University of Maryland and UCLA, respectively. Performing choreographed forms and wielding traditional staffs were what initially sold Sabrina on the Wushu Club. This hobby allows her to perfect challenging skills and techniques in a friendly, light-hearted environment, and it stands out as a highlight of her college experience.
Sabrina’s advice to VISAS participants is inspired by the lessons she learned at O’Hill during her first semester as a volunteer. “The most important point about teaching is determining what, specifically, the learner needs, and tailoring your lesson plan accordingly,” says Sabrina. “The act of teaching requires you to be willing to throw out the script when necessary. After all, every learner is unique. There is no single formula for the learning process,” she notes. Sabrina’s highly personalized approach and flexible methodology has helped her students meet important benchmarks, inspired her to interrogate her own biases (including the notion that language learning must always be literacy-intensive, rather than prioritizing conversational ease and fluidity), and allowed her to connect with individuals on a deeper level both inside and outside of the classroom.
Pictured above: Karolina riding her horse, Thunder, in Colombia.
Karolina Naranjo-Velasco is proud of her Colombian heritage. She self-identifies as a strong santandereana–a moniker used to describe the women of the Santander region of Colombia who are famous for their bravery. Karolina also understands the incredible value of human connection and hard work. Her close-knit family instilled in her the mindset that our purpose in life is to help others selflessly, without agenda or expectation of return. For Karolina, this upbringing–along with the tragic fact that her family members were victims of armed conflict themselves–translated into a passion for social justice, which inspired her to pursue law and human rights (with a focus on those of women). To this end, Karolina attended the Universidad Industrial de Santander, where she received her Bachelor of Law degree; and later, the Universidad de Sevilla in Spain, where she earned her Master’s in Constitutional Law.
Karolina is clearly a dedicated student and lover of learning. However, she has never been content to remain in the classroom. Karolina’s chief desire was–and continues to be–helping marginalized groups get the justice and social support they deserve. Her work in this vein is nothing short of remarkable. Karolina served as a legal advisor to victims of Colombian armed conflict and gender violence, as well as a community leader and political spokesperson for the Colombian Women Initiative for Peace for seven years. She later played a critical role in shaping public policy in the government of Santander as the Director of Comprehensive Support and Reparation for Victims of Armed Conflict. This position taught her that a solid grasp of quantitative methods is absolutely necessary for practitioners of public policy–a discovery that ultimately led her to apply to a corresponding graduate program in the United States.
Since moving to Virginia, Karolina has been just as involved in her community. She is a visiting scholar at the University of Virginia Law School and splits her time between legal and economic research, volunteer work, and English study–one of her favorite pastimes. Unsurprisingly, Karolina was ecstatic when she discovered VISAS. She has thrived within the “welcoming community of volunteers and fellow English language learners” and embraced every learning opportunity that she can. As part of the VISAS Language Consultant program and as a regular attendee of VISAS Cafe, Karolina’s confidence in conversing in English has increased significantly. Just as important to Karolina has been her time with the UVA Writing Center, where she works closely with her dear mentors and supporters Trecia Gunnoe and Prof. Kate Kostelnik. Additionally, Karolina deeply appreciates participating in activities organized by the Lorna Sundberg International Center, which provides the Charlottesville community with a rich forum for intercultural exchange. Always eager to “pay it forward,” Karolina has also been able to help UVA students improve their Spanish conversational skills.
Karolina’s advice to other language learners is profound: the language learning process is akin to falling in love, since it can induce visceral feelings of excitement, joy, and even anxiety in new speakers. For this reason, Karolina urges individuals to “fall in love” with the language they are studying–to “enjoy [the] small things” and subtle victories along the way, and to have the humility or lightheartedness to “laugh at yourself” when necessary.
Grant Tabler is a second-year, double-majoring in Sociology and Government, with a minor in French. Grant started volunteering with VISAS during the spring of his first year at Newcomb Dining Hall with the Workplace ESL Assistant program. Every week, Grant meets with Deme, an employee from Ethiopia, to practice English with casual conversation and fun activities. Coming in with some familiarity of the Habesha culture, Grant has done well to help bridge the gap between the U.S. university culture and that of Ethiopia in his time with Deme. Since he began volunteering nearly a year ago, Grant has enjoyed building a connection with Deme and learning about her life stories and culture. He says the most rewarding aspect of the program is getting to see the progress in Deme’s confidence and comfort with English every week. After he graduates, Grant hopes to journey to France for a year to continue pursuing his passion for teaching English. Eventually, he hopes to earn a JD or PhD and pursue a career at the intersection of sociology and government. Until he takes off on such pursuits, we are thankful to have Grant here with VISAS as he continues to make a positive difference in the University community.
Haruka Hasegawa is a PhD candidate in Economics from Kyushu, the sourthernmost of the four main islands of Japan. Haruka’s collegiate career began with her undergraduate studies at Japan’s Kobe University where she focused on development economics. After graduating, Haruka worked as a consultant in Tokyo before moving to the U.S. to earn a master’s degree at Boston University. Along the way, she decided to shift her focus to international trade and returned to Tokyo to work in foreign affairs. Here in Charlottesville, Haruka continues her focus on international trade in pursuit of her doctorate. Haruka became involved with VISAS her first year at UVa, in 2015, working with ESL Assistants in her CAELC ESL classes. Haruka quickly developed as a leader and, in 2016, took on the role as a panelist for the “Teaching as a Graduate Student” workshop series that welcomes and helps acclimate new international TAs to the university. Through these efforts, Haruka has used her insight to help many international students overcome the challenges she faced when she was a new international graduate student in the U.S. This year, in addition to continuing her efforts as a panelist, Haruka has become involved with the Language Consultant (LC) program. She meets with her LC, Mae, on a weekly basis to practice English speaking and learn about different aspects of the U.S. and university culture. Hoping to pursue an academic career in the U.S., Haruka truly appreciates everything she can learn from Mae about the U.S. undergraduate student life, from football games and March Madness to academics and everyday activities. We are sincerely grateful and honored to have gotten to know Haruka and to have her as a member of the VISAS family.
Sean Hood is a fourth-year, from Winchester, VA, majoring in Biology and hoping to pursue a career in medicine following graduation. Sean is returning for his third semester with the VISAS Classroom Consultant (CC) Program, in which volunteers help international graduate students build the language and cultural skills needed to become successful teaching assistants (TAs) here at UVA. With experience as a student in many TA-driven courses, Sean joined the CC Program because he believed he could offer insight as to how information is most effectively conveyed in a classroom setting. However, through his efforts as a CC, Sean has realized that the most impactful moments of learning often do not derive from the advice that he and other volunteers give to the international TAs, but instead from the friendships that are built among volunteers and international participants as the semester progresses. Through this process, Sean insists the international participants have taught him more than he could ever teach them. In turn, he believes all that he has learned has helped him grow as a student here at UVA and, further, as an aspiring care provider for his future life in medicine.