Alumni Speakers Inspire Spanish Language Students with Diverse Experiences Abroad

This winter, Marist School elevated its dedication to providing enriching educational opportunities through an Alumni Speaker Series designed for Spanish classes. Alumni from diverse backgrounds and experiences shared insights with students in Honors Spanish III and IV and Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish courses, shedding light on their unique journeys abroad and how they utilized their Spanish language skills along the way.
The speaker series had the goal of highlighting numerous chances for students to apply their Spanish skills and explore the Spanish-speaking world from Latin America to Spain. The diverse range of experiences featured activities such as hiking and spiritual exploration along the Camino de Santiago, academic courses on international campuses, and ecological and sustainability-focused trips.

The series commenced on December 18, featuring Katherine Guhl ’21. Currently pursuing cognitive sciences and computer science majors and a minor in Spanish at the University of Georgia (UGA), Guhl shared her summer 2023 experience at UGA en Valencia. She expressed, “My experience abroad in Valencia provided invaluable lessons through everything l learned and the relationships I formed. It was great to come to Marist and share the continuation and depth of my Spanish journey in the place where it all started.”

The students found the visits from alumni equally rewarding. Honors Spanish III student Hannah Hightower ’26 shared her perspective, stating, “I found the alumni stories very fascinating. I loved how they were able to fully immerse themselves in the culture and form relationships with host families abroad. These experiences sound beneficial and fantastic.”

On January 4, Chris Kammerer ’23 shared his experience trekking along the historic Camino de Santiago de Compostela during summer 2023, accompanied by fellow graduate Henry Djuric ’23. Currently majoring in computer science at Auburn University, Kammerer provided valuable insights into his journey, which involved volunteering at the Albergue de la Santa Cruz. This hostel, founded and run by Marist priests, serves pilgrims at the halfway point of the Camino Frances in Sahagun, Spain.

The series continued on January 5 with Malia Nelson ’21, who shared insights into her studies in Cuenca, Ecuador and Madrid, Spain as part of the Georgia Institute of Technology's Biodiversity and Sustainability program. Nelson, now pursuing  majors in psychology, Spanish, and pre-medicine at Georgia Tech, reflected on her academic and cultural experiences. After concluding her time with Marist students, she remarked, “I loved coming back to Marist after graduating to share my study abroad story and provide perspective on life after Marist.” She continued, “I will forever be grateful to Marist for giving me teachers with whom I can build lifelong connections and for allowing me to influence the next generations of Marist graduates.” Malia explained that, as a former Marist student, she valued the visits from graduates who spoke about life after Marist, inspiring her to pursue experiential learning. “I am grateful for this opportunity and hoped that I inspired the next group of Spanish-speaking students.”

After listening to the speakers, Honors Spanish III student Clara Laskowski ’26 commented, “Hearing about the different college programs in Spain and South America that recent Marist grads have participated in makes an experience similar to theirs feel more attainable to me.”

On January 8, Clare Seymour ’21 and Hayley Hotz ’21, both of whom spent a semester in Santiago, Chile, impressed students with their stories. Seymour and Hotz are pursuing majors in engineering and marketing/Spanish, respectively, at the University of Notre Dame. Seymour expressed her gratitude to Marist, saying, “I am so grateful to Marist for the amazing foundation the Spanish department provided me. I could not have had the incredible experience of studying abroad in Chile without the language skills I developed at Marist. I loved being able to come back and share that experience with current students and get them excited about the possibilities they can have if they stick with foreign language studies.”

Mrs. Erica Buchanan, a Spanish teacher at Marist who organized the speaker series for students, emphasized the transformative nature of these trips abroad, as expressed by the speakers. Buchanan emphasized how the alumni highlighted their ability to engage in bucket-list activities, from “hiking Patagonia to visiting Machu Picchu, Easter Island, and walking across Spain.” She emphasized to Marist students how “living abroad and taking classes with native speakers enabled them to develop a sense of independence, fostering connections that would not have been possible without proficiency in the language.”

“I really enjoyed the speakers who came back to talk at Marist,” shared Annie Callaghan ’26, a Honors Spanish III student. “It was relatable because they took the same Spanish courses as I am taking. Hearing them talk about the struggles and adjustments made me more confident in my ability to potentially be able to do a similar trip.”

Indeed, inspiration for these experiences often came from past alumni or faculty who undertook similar programs. English teacher Mr. Mike Burns traveled the Camino in spring 2019 during a sabbatical term awarded to him by Marist through the Loridans Academic Fellowship. The stories he shared upon returning to Marist served as a catalyst for Chris Kammerer's journey. Additionally, Dylan Rose Elledge '19, who spent a semester abroad at the Santiago Global Center through Notre Dame, paved the way for Clare Seymour and Hayley Hotz.

When the speaker series concluded, AP Spanish student Nicole Barrios ’24 said, “Getting the chance to hear from recent alumni about their adventures abroad was wonderful! I appreciated hearing about their immersive experiences and how they became part of the culture wherever they studied. Being open to exciting opportunities like theirs made me hopeful about what college might have in store for me regarding using my Spanish abroad.”
Honors Spanish III student Handley Greeley ’25 added, “I personally really liked the guest speakers because we got to learn about experiencing culture in a way that is outside of the classroom. Their experiences definitely inspired me to want to continue with Spanish to do a study abroad trip in the future.”

Fortunately, Marist students do not have to wait until college to experience immersive learning. By offering exchanges, mission trips, and cocurricular student travel, Marist School provides students with opportunities to explore the world beyond campus and enhance their learning.

The Alumni Speaker Series underscores Marist School's commitment to providing students with a global perspective and inspiring them to explore diverse cultures. The invaluable insights shared by alumni are sure to leave a lasting impact on the students, encouraging them to consider the vast opportunities available to those fluent in the Spanish language.

Marist School

3790 Ashford Dunwoody Road, NE
Atlanta, GA 30319-1899
(770) 457-7201
An Independent Catholic School of the Marist Fathers and Brothers