Evan Harris

Spanish: Maddie Alexanian

Maddie Alexanian cites two influences that motivated her to major in Spanish — connecting with her older relatives and studying abroad. 

Growing up, she recalls family gatherings on her dad’s side where everyone spoke in Spanish. Though her dad speaks Spanish, she, her brothers and her mother didn’t, so she didn’t grow up speaking it at home. 

“I always felt like I didn’t understand and wished that I did,” Alexanian said. “So I think that that played a role in deciding to pursue Spanish — just to connect better with my grandparents and speak with my dad. Being able to connect with him in that way is really cool.”

By the end of her sophomore year, Alexanian had taken the general language requirements in Spanish and enjoyed it, despite the challenge. During her junior fall in 2021, she took a leap of faith and studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain, a transformative experience that enabled her to complete enough Spanish courses to declare a major. 

“The first few days, I was like, ‘I need to go home,’” she said, laughing. “But by the end of the semester, I didn’t want to leave. And then I started investigating ways to do that. I would encourage anyone who is interested in language, wants to use their language in their career or just wants to develop their proficiency to study abroad.”

Within the Department of Spanish, Alexanian has especially enjoyed her Spanish linguistics courses with Dr. César Gutiérrez , Dr. Tiffany Judy and Dr. Sara Fernández Cuenca, the last of whom was her study abroad professor in Salamanca. 

“[Fernández Cuenca] made us all feel very at home. I think her role as kind of our supervisor-mentor while we were abroad really made a difference in my experience,” Alexanian said.

Fernández Cuenca also taught Alexanian’s favorite class within the department, Spanish of the United States, which investigates how the dialects of U.S. Spanish are linguistically different from those in other regions of the world. Coming from a family that speaks Spanish in the United States, Alexanian found that she learned more about why her father and grandparents speak how they do. She also believes that the course helped her navigate her identity as what she described as a second-generation speaker of Spanish. 

Though she believes she still has plenty of room to improve her vocabulary and accent, Alexanian believes that her major has enabled her to achieve a level of speaking she wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. In addition, she also learned that she will put in the time for the things she cares about, having listened to music, watched TV and read books in Spanish in her free time.

After graduation, Alexanian will spend a year abroad in Spain as a Fulbright English teaching assistant. Following the completion of her program, she will attend a Ph.D. program in school psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The school has a doctoral minor that focuses on providing services to linguistically diverse families and partners with the Hispanic Center in Madison, so students can get practical experience in schools with bilingual populations, which was one of Alexanian’s main reasons for choosing the program. While earning her Ph.D., she also wants to research bilingual education in schools and how it helps students with learning disabilities.

In the long term, Alexanian pictures herself as either a school psychologist working with children within her community or as a clinical supervisor at a university, where she would provide student assessment services for those needing learning disability diagnoses and other assistance. 

“I’m scared to move to a new place where I don’t know many people, but I am really excited to have a chance to establish myself and make a new community for myself,” Alexanian said about her future plans. “It will probably be hard, but it’s exciting.”

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