A Triple-Threat Student
University of Minnesota senior Joseph Rojas is a triple threat.
His triple major of Spanish & Portuguese studies, global studies, and French has taken him all over the world, from studying abroad in Venezuela and Brazil to France and other parts of Europe. Rojas speaks Spanish, Portuguese, and French fluently, and is interested in learning even more languages, including Finnish, Norwegian, Japanese, and Arabic.
Language Experience & Applications
As a person of Puerto Rican descent growing up in Minnesota, Rojas grew up listening to friends and family members speaking Spanish. That exposure laid the foundation for his interest in learning the language, which was later solidified by an amazing high school Spanish teacher. Rojas further developed his passion for Spanish after convincing his parents to let him attend a week-long session at the Concordia Language Villages in Bemidji, MN.
The Concordia Language Villages consist of 15 individual camps devoted to a specific language; Rojas immersed himself in the Spanish camp. He loved the experience and returned the following year, and this time he landed a job as a junior counselor after the dean took note of his excellent Spanish-language skills.
After working and living alongside native speakers from eight Spanish-speaking countries and meeting fascinating people from Brazil, Rojas became interested in immersing himself in another language, and started working at the Portuguese camp for a summer. These experiences provided a clear deciding factor of where his collegiate path was headed.
Rojas gained additional experience speaking Spanish through an internship with The Advocates for Human Rights in the spring of 2016. There, he spoke Spanish on the phone with immigrants and refugees who were seeking asylum in the United States. Through legal translation and other administrative duties, Rojas was gaining invaluable experience in the language he loves and in international human rights laws.
Now, as the newest peer advisor for the Department of Spanish & Portuguese Studies, Rojas primarily works with students who are minoring in Spanish or Portuguese Studies. He facilitates minor declaration sessions multiple times a week and will eventually have his own drop-in sessions for minors to come in and ask questions. In addition, he analyzes students’ academic reports to ensure that their coursework and credits are aligned correctly. He also shares what he has learned from his study abroad experiences and coursework history in order to effectively advise prospective students.
Studying Abroad in Brazil & Venezuela
In the summer of 2015, Rojas studied abroad in Brazil with funding from Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship, which is an intensive American study abroad program that allowed him to live with a host family and spend five or six hours a day studying the Portuguese language.
Then, in the fall of 2015, Rojas had the unique experience to travel to Venezuela in the midst of a pivotal election and economic crisis. Rojas recounts his experience of being an American during this politically tense period in Venezuela, remembering that he was not allowed to go to the capital city of Caracas or within a certain number of miles of the Colombian border. He remembers being specifically instructed not to leave his host family’s house on election day because he could have been mistaken as a protester, and the police were instructed to shoot at anyone who was protesting that day. In addition, many of the friends he made in Venezuela abruptly left the country looking for better lives elsewhere.
Despite this increasing political unrest in Venezuela, Rojas was able to see almost every region of the country including the plains, the Caribbean coasts, the Andes, and the Amazon. “I got to see a really amazing part of the world and interact with a lot of really amazing people from [there],” says Rojas.
Rojas is currently working on his senior thesis project, focusing on the US-Mexico border region. He plans to explore how biculturalism among Chicano people affects LGBTQ individuals and their various sets of identities. He has noticed how Chicana queer women have written and talked about their experiences and increased prominence in academia, theorizing a lot of the important concepts of the Chicano movement. However, Chicano homosexual men have been less vocal in comparison to their female counterparts.
Rojas is determined to research this difference within the Chicano gay community, ultimately seeking to identify what Chicano homosexual men can learn from the already important work that has been done by the Chicana women. “There’s a really unique opportunity for coalition-building between Chicano gay men and Chicana women for potential activism,” says Rojas.
He believes that the Chicano queer men represent a great opportunity to make a lot of positive change within the LGBTQ community. “If Chicano gay men talk about their experiences and claim their gay identity, that in and of itself would be a huge step,” Rojas says.
A Triple-Threat Future
Rojas has big plans to continue utilizing his language abilities in the future. He’s currently applying for the competitive Fulbright fellowship to teach English in Brazil for nine months. He also plans to apply for Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF) in the hopes of teaching English at a high school or middle school in France to pursue his passion of language expansion.
In addition, Rojas hopes to pursue a dual degree program in which he would spend two years in graduate school in the United States and two years in graduate school in either France, Brazil, or a Spanish-speaking country. He is also considering a PhD in Romance languages. After his internship at the Advocates for Human Rights here in Minneapolis, immigration law or international human rights law are also possibilities for the future.
Regardless of what the future holds, Rojas has a burning desire to continue learning languages through traveling and teaching abroad. He’ll be able to capitalize on his triple-threat undergraduate experience for a triple-threat future packed with immersion, engagement, and opportunity.