Sharing a passion for Latin American culture

Brand new South Puget Sound Community College Spanish Professor Sean McPherson is 25-years-young who fell into the teaching field. Before moving to Olympia, McPherson taught Portuguese at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he received his Master of Arts degree. He has also taught English in Rio. McPherson has a natural ease in the classroom, able to be both approachable and professional. In his free time, McPherson volunteers at CIELO, the Integral Latino Educational Center of Olympia, where he teaches individuals of Latino descent the necessary skills to get their General Education Degree. He is also a published poet and is currently training for a marathon.

Kathryn Herron: How long have you been a professor?
Sean McPherson: Roughly one year. This is my first quarter at SPSCC, and I taught Portuguese at Tulane University throughout the last academic year. In 2010 I taught English while living in Rio de Janeiro, too. I jogged past SPSCC everyday and always thought it looked like a great place, so I dropped off a resume even though there were no open positions at the time. A few weeks later, I got a call and came in for an interview.

KH: That’s surprising. You’re very good at what you do. Did you always want to be a professor?
SM: Actually, I kind of just fell into it. My father was a professor at Central University and my mother taught fifth grade for a long time, so I suppose you could say education runs in my genes. This opportunity opened up, so I took advantage of it. It’s definitely something I can see myself doing in the future, although maybe not forever.

KH: What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a professor? What would you say is the most stressful or frustrating part of the job?
SM: I would say the most rewarding part is seeing improvement in students and getting them excited about Latin American culture. One thing I find frustrating is that it can be hard to put up boundaries concerning grades. It can also sometimes be hard trying to turn students on to Spanish; certain students just take it for a foreign language credit, not out of a genuine interest.

KH: How long have you been studying Spanish?
SM: I started learning Spanish in seventh grade and continued from there. I even took a few of the lower-level classes more than once, to make sure I had a firm hold on the most essential grammatical concepts. My passion for the language grew quite a bit when I started dating a fluent speaker; that served as a key motivation to my really learning the language. I also became more passionate about Spanish after studying abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico. After I received my undergraduate degree from Pacific Lutheran University, I traveled to Brazil to learn Portuguese, then continued studying it as a graduate student at Tulane.
KH: Are there any other languages you would like to learn?
SM: I would like to learn more of the pre-Columbian language, maybe a Mayan dialect. Italian and Japanese are also on the list.

KH: You’re trilingual and would like to learn other languages. Have you ever thought about being a linguist?
SM: My good friend Natalie was taking a Spanish Linguistics class at Pacific Lutheran University. She is blind, and I got a job reading her textbooks aloud to her (Braille texts in Spanish can be hard to find on short notice). One was a linguistics textbook. It was fascinating, but not for me.

KH: What advice would you give to students who are trying to learn a foreign language?
SM: Take classes more than once if you’re still not confident with the material you’ve covered, look up new words, be passionate about it, and go to a country where they speak the language you’re trying to learn. When you’re learning a foreign language, you really need to throw caution to the wind and just go for it.

KH: You also play guitar and write poetry. Where has your work been published?
SM: I’ve had some poems published online in various journals such as ditch,, The Bacon Review, 13 Myna Birds, and The Commonline Journal. Some of my work is forthcoming in The Conium Review and Main Street Rag.