• Ridge Michiels

Language buddies Jana and Gabriel continue to practice

Jana Verhulst, a student in Literature and Linguistics, and Gabriel Hinojosa, a student at Linguapolis

They both signed up for UAntwerp’s Language Buddy project.

Gabriel: “My goal was to go to university, which is not that evident in Ecuador. What’s more the level is quite low there, meaning your diploma opens fewer doors. I also wanted to learn a language. I already spoke Spanish and English but was searching for a real challenge. That is why I decided to move to Belgium, to live with my aunt, nephew and niece. In September I started to learn Dutch at Linguapolis as part of a one-year course. I briefly thought about studying Linguistics and Literature next academic year, but since then I settled on rehabilitation sciences and physiotherapy instead. I used to do a lot of sports in Ecuador and I had already started the same programme there.

The language programme that I’m currently following is very intense, which requires me to practice a lot. It’s not that easy in my daily life, because very few people around me are fluent in Dutch. Fortunately, I found out about the Language Buddy programme and that’s how I met Jana.”

Jana: “I’ve been fascinating with language for as long as I can remember. I like books and poetry and like sharing this with other people. I regularly participate in Language Buddy activities and events, going out to a bar, playing tabletop games, taking part in workshops… It’s always a lot of fun!

Gabriel has been my buddy since September. I’m his main point of contact in Antwerp. We got to know each other on an informal basis but now we are firm friends. I really find it interesting to get to know other cultures, as well as discover our city through the eyes of a newcomer in Antwerp!”.

Gabriel: “I now keep in touch with Jana by calling her occasionally. Our starting point is usually a list of questions about topics from my course, which allows me to practice what I’ve learnt. But we also discuss what we’ve both been doing in the past week. I tell her all kinds of stuff about my family. I really enjoy the fact that we can do much more together now. We walk, cook together or watch a film.

Jana: “During our last chat I heard a funny sound from behind Gabriel’s computer. It was his cat, who immediately took off. Gabriel run after her, showing me his whole house in the process. When he finally found the cat in the kitchen, he also introduced me to his family here. I really liked that, which is why I introduced him to my own family during our next chat.

I find it crazy to see how fast Gabriel and the other language buddies learn Dutch. In the beginning, they speak almost no Dutch and now I sometimes forget that the reason why we are calling each other in the first place is so he can practice his Dutch.”

Gabriel: “Most of my family still lives in Ecuador, where corona is also spreading. They say that the quarantine may last until July or August. There is a crisis in the capital and at the seaside because there are not enough beds in the hospitals. Fortunately, my family lives in a small village, two hours outside of Quito. They are safe for the time being. I realise how dangerous everything is, especially for doctors, nurses and the elderly. I hope that everything returns to normal soon and that everyone can soon return to their favourite activities.

I do try to take advantage of this period to practice my Dutch even more. I call everyone I know and I speak as much Dutch as possible, including with my other language buddies.”

Jana: “I think that corona creates plenty of new opportunities. We come up with other ways to continue communicating with each other and get to know each other even better. By providing support during this difficult period, we help our language buddies so they can live a better life in the future.”

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