Institute offers week of Spanish language and culture |

Institute offers week of Spanish language and culture

Sara Thompson

Jonah M. Kessel / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Fifteen years ago, Diane Rosner and Sue O’Conner wanted to organize an event for teachers to learn more about the Spanish language and culture.

They expected only 30 people to show up to the weeklong event.

Instead, 150 people attended the first Intensive Summer Spanish Institute (ISSI) at Lake Tahoe Community College. There were three levels of Spanish offered then.

Now, the training has expanded to 12 levels of Spanish, with 121 different course offerings. This year’s institute drew 590 participants.

“I drive to the college and see every parking space taken,” said Rosner, LTCC’s dean of instruction. “This was our dream.”

O’Conner and Maxine Alper are ISSI directors this year. Institute students traveled from all over California and Nevada to participate in the event Aug. 11-15, consisting of language instruction, cultural classes and other sessions that range from salsa recipes to dating customs. In addition to daily activities, ISSI also offered evening sessions, such as a dance night and lectures.

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One noteworthy evening session was The Difficult Trip – a simulated journey of a trip through Mexico. Students must navigate through customs, a market, bus station and a bank. Each station is operated by a native Spanish speaker to help students work on their conversational skills.

Rosner said some students feel “tortured” when deciding among the wide variety of courses they could take.

Cesar Garcia, a Sparks High School teacher, said he has been with ISSI all 15 years as an instructor. He’s from Spain and said the institute is a great environment to interact with native Spanish speakers such as himself and learn the differences in how Spanish is spoken in Spain, Mexico, Peru and other countries.

If someone can’t travel to a country to practice Spanish, ISSI is the next best option for them, Garcia said.

And the students enjoy everything the intensive week offers.

Sky Robyns, a counselor at Sparks Middle School, said it was her second year at the event, and she plans to attend again next year.

“I don’t feel as nervous, and the environment is very supportive,” Robyns said. “Everyone is messing up.”

Robyns said her school starts classes again soon, and it’s good to go over her Spanish so she can communicate with parents.

Terri Fox, a nurse practitioner from Shingle Springs, said she was enjoying her first time at ISSI.

“I’d get bored if I had to sit in a class all day,” Fox said. “The variety makes it fun.”

Because the program is so popular, Rosner said after ISSI’s enrollment opened, it only took a couple of weeks for spots to fill up. Some classes even filled up within the first two hours. Right now, the college can’t fit any more people.

“We’re at capacity,” Rosner said. “Every room, every nook and cranny is used.”

Many medical professionals and educators attend the event to work on their communication, and the city of South Lake Tahoe sent six employees this year.

“We think it is very important for city employees to have a basic appreciation for the Spanish language so that we can better communicate with and serve a large segment of our community,” City Manager David Jinkens said.

And at a cost of $70 per employee, the institute was a great bargain, he added.

Because of the demand, people already are making plans to attend ISSI next year – and the year after that.

Alper said someone called asking when the event would be in 2010 so they could reserve a timeshare for that week.

The Intensive Summer Spanish Institute is celebrating its quinceanera, which is a girl’s 15th birthday, symbolizing her transition from a girl to a woman.

The Aztecs started the tradition, said Alejandra Quirarte, an instructor at ISSI. They would offer the 15-year-old girls to the best warriors of any tribe so that more warriors became a part of the Aztec nation.

Quirarte said the tradition has evolved into a fiesta, where the quinceanera, the birthday girl, wears a gown and a tiara. Events take place to symbolize her transition into womanhood, such as changing her footwear from low to high heels in a ceremonial way.

To celebrate, ISSI shared a traditional three-tiered cake with all the participants Wednesday afternoon. Later in the week, dancers demonstrated a quinceanera traditional waltz, too.