Skip to main content

Micro Grants for Global Skills: Legal Spanish in Guatemala

March 03, 2023

Small monetary awards are available to support motivated Penn Carey Law students who are seeking to independently pursue skills development (including language training) for globalized legal tracks.

By Mikaela Wolf-Sorokin L’24, Lizzie Shackney L’24, and Ava Obrecht L’24

The three of us are public-interest students at Penn Carey Law who plan to do direct services work upon graduation. For the summer between our 1L and 2L year, our goal was to improve our Spanish skills to better assist Spanish-speaking clients and communities in law school and beyond. We all believe that we can better advocate for and with clients when we can connect with them in their native language.

After assessing our choices, we decided that Proyecto Linguistico Quetzalteco, a non-profit language school in Xela, Guatemala, was best suited to our needs. This school offers intensive Spanish courses, with the option to focus on instruction that is tailored toward those in the legal, social work, or healthcare areas. Instruction was one-on-one, and we had the flexibility to choose which weeks we attended, and for how long.

While in Guatemala, we stayed in rented rooms that had a kitchen space so we could cook. We went to outdoor markets to purchase vegetables and tortillas, and then practiced making typical Guatemalan dishes. 

We developed legal Spanish vocabulary with our teachers by discussing the legal issues in which we are most interested. The day would typically start with an open-ended discussion in Spanish. Lizzie, for example, would talk with her teacher about student debt and debt more generally, the affirmative action cases that were going to be in front of the Supreme Court in the upcoming term, the labor movement, and the eviction crisis; her first teacher also gave her the vocabulary needed to discuss her 1L summer internship at Community Legal Services, where she worked with clients facing consumer and homeownership issues. We might also discuss with our teacher the similarities and differences between various legal issues in the United States and in Guatemala. After these discussions, we would spend the majority of the morning with more formal grammar and vocabulary lessons.

The lessons could be supplemented with an array of cultural and volunteer experiences. We went to conferences through the school on corruption in the public educational system, attended weaving classes, and learned about the current political landscape in Guatemala.

We came to the program with varying experiences speaking and writing in Spanish, but we all improved our Spanish skills noticeably during the program. We have since used these improved language skills in different internship and pro bono capacities to better communicate with clients from various backgrounds. Mikaela, for instance, drew on her legal Spanish training during an externship at the Nationalities Service Center. Lizzie, meanwhile, connected with Juntos, a Latinx-led community organization fighting for immigrants’ rights in South Philadelphia, and she has helped the group to develop legal research questions concerning language access rights. 

Our language-learning experience was supported by Micro Grants for Global Skills from the Penn Carey Law Office of International Affairs. We suggest that other students who are interested in developing legal language skills carve out time in their schedules for intensive study. We are so grateful for our experience and hope to build on it with further real-world practice and study. In fact, with support from a second Micro Grant for Global Skills, Lizzie and Ava will be returning to Guatemala during their 2L summer to continue developing their skills.

Learn more about World Language Training options at Penn Carey Law.