We are very pleased to introduce the incredibly outstanding volunteer language instructors of Virtual Conversation Café. This exceptional group of people provide a bridge to understanding and communication through the languages they teach and the cultures that they share. They offer our community beginning and basic conversational language instruction in Arabic, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish. (Cantonese is also offered by our wonderful staff member, Teresa Wong)
An Iconoclastic Arabic instructor, and SJSU linguistics master's student, Dalal will take you through the Arabic speaking world, introducing music and dance from around the region, while teaching words and phrases almost guaranteed to get you a warm welcome and perhaps even an invitation to a family dinner.
A chat with Dalal:
My first job... When I was 18 or 19, I worked at a radio station in Northern Iraq. I translated radio programs for children into Assyrian, Kurdish, and Arabic. I also had my own children's show. I took this job in rebellion against the restrictions imposed on women and the kind of work permissible to them. Every future job I've held since followed this pattern.
I'm most proud of... who I am - a survivor, and a stubborn woman who keeps going, regardless of how hard life hits. I am most proud of myself and what I have accomplished. I am an SJSU Masters of Linguistics student and a volunteer. I am comfortable in my own skin and know that I belong.
My biggest challenge... expectation syndrome. I do so much for others. I expect the same. I need to overcome the disappointment when this does not occur.
My community... is a place where I can cook, share my culture and language through food. A place where I can extend my family, share my food so that all who eat with me soon become my family.
Emiko always greets her students with a smile and throughout her class offers words of encouragement. Emi's face lights up with every student's correct, or attempted pronouncement and placement of taught Japanese vocabulary and grammar. Sharing Japanese language and culture, Emi has formed a bond with students from throughout San José and very far beyond.
A chat with Emiko:
My fondest memory... Everything about my daughter, from the day that she was born. She is so much fun. We have done so many things together. She is a talented musician and appeared on The Voice. I was so happy. She also appeared in the Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal production of BARS at The Public Theater, New York.
My greatest challenge... was coming to the U.S. all by myself to attend Delta College in Stockton. I did not speak English. Everything was so new.
Libraries are... a big resource. Other than checking out books and having classes libraries have and do so many things. They are amazing places. They have exhibits, and in the California Room, they have the equipment and staff to help with transferring VHS to digital format. I used this service and was able to share my films and photos with my family throughout the world. I am always checking the SJPL Events schedule to see what I can attend. I also love the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. display at King Library. Every time I was there, I stopped to look and read a bit of it.
I volunteer... because it is fun. If anyone can use my skill, I am happy. It is nice to feel that I am able to do something for others. I benefit from benefiting others. I enjoy everybody that I meet in my classes. I get the chance to meet people that I would never meet outside of my regular community. That's what I enjoy.
José is debonair, welcoming, and so happy to take students on a virtual tour of his island home; introduce the Portuguese community from around the world, and teach Portuguese as spoken in the Azores and Portugal.
A chat with José:
My role model... My Father - a wonderful, simple, hardworking family man. I didn't appreciate him fully until I started my own family.
My community... San José. I love this diverse community. I have been here since 1981. I am comfortable here. I know my neighbors. My neighborhood makes me feel at home. I know in places it can be crowded and that there is plenty of traffic, but now, I can drive when it is convenient to me and can avoid the worst of it.
If I had a superpower... I'd like to heal the world, end suffering, and make sure that everyone has enough to eat, and all are happy.
I volunteer... because of me. I am the real beneficiary. It's very rewarding. I have my son to thank for my volunteering. I worked to make money. I volunteer for self-gratification. I volunteer to do things I like to do. In addition to volunteering with the library, I volunteer at the Tech Museum and with Our City Forest.
Mairtin Mac An Ghoill
With twinkling eyes, a constant smile, and a ready laugh, Mairtin brings Irish to the minds and tongues of his always engaged students. You never know what to expect in this class. Irish is taught through cooking and art lessons, folklore, virtual rambles throughout Ireland, and Mexican art tours throughout the family home. Mairtin loves Irish and his native land. Join this class and share his passion.
A chat with Mairtin:
My fondest memory... meeting my partner, Rich. I was in San Francisco for a month. I was couch-surfing. Rich invited me home. I never left.
My role model... My Aunt Dymphna. She was a very old-fashioned Irish woman. She was a wonderful person. There was never a moment when she wasn't smiling. She could describe her troubles without burdening others. She always maintained a path forward.
My community... is multilayered - the people around me who have an interest in the Irish language; people who are trying to understand themselves through the Irish language; and gay people in that community who are melding two worlds (being Irish and gay) together.
If I weren't volunteering... I would be at home, feeling very closed in, not having a door or window to get out of myself. I would be shut in, inside of myself.
Rosana Arze Gonzalez
When the pandemic let loose its furious force, this former SJPL volunteer contacted me from the far reaches of Bolivia, South America, to ask how she might be of help in San José. A master of English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, Rosana shares her zest of life and native Spanish with her students from throughout the world.
A chat with Rosana:
My first job... I was a secretary at the Bolivian Embassy, using my language skills, making good money, dressing in very, very nice clothes, feeling very important, and working more than 8 hours a day. Lots of essential duties depended on me to get the job done. I worked with Europe and Asia, and Naval transportation on the efficiency and productivity of goods coming in and out of Bolivian ports.
With my salary, one of the first things I purchased was a round trip ticket to the U.S. The second purchase was my grandmother's porcelain. It smells of my childhood and reminds me of her.
I'm most proud of... my daughter and the education that I gave her and the accomplishments she has made with that education. She will soon receive her PhD. I feel that her success is my success.
If I had a superpower... I would like to transport myself anywhere and anytime (past and future), within seconds.
I volunteer... because I like it. I like to feel that people need my help. I love to teach and see my results. Before coming to the U.S., I used to volunteer in a children's burn unit at my neighborhood hospital. I volunteered from 7 am till noon every morning, before going to the university to teach. The smell was bad, but I loved the children there.
Warm and charming, Stefania is ever ready with a captivating lesson on whatever subject the whim of the class might take her to. Stefania is a superb ambassador for Italy and her mother tongue - Italian.
A chat with Stefania
As a child... I wish I had more fun. I grew up in a small, ancient Mediterranean seaside town in Italy, founded by Greece more than 3,000 years ago. There was not too much fun for children. There were few playgrounds, and only one swing for the many, many children who wished to raise their feet to the sky. You could not swing for long. You always had in the back of your mind and in your sight, the long line of children waiting for their turn.
My first job... I was 25 and became a journalist covering regional news, crime, and politics in Sicily. I did this work for 20 years, which included anchoring a political talk show. With my first paycheck I bought 2 mobile phones, one for me and one for my then boyfriend, now husband.
My fondest memory... My Mom, who is not with me anymore. My best memories are with my Mom and the times we spent together. The day I got married, she hugged my husband and said, "I'm giving you a flower. Treat well, this flower."
If I weren't volunteering... I would never have met the amazing people who joined my class.