Comfort Takes Spanish Students into Community

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Volunteering for nonprofits such as the Latin American Association or La Amistad. Interning with local organizations that serve Atlanta’s Latino community. These probably aren’t the activities that come to mind when you think about college Spanish classes.

Welcome to Kelly Comfort’s approach to teaching Spanish — with a service learning twist.

“Rather than learn about speakers of the language, I want my students to learn with speakers of the language,” said Comfort, associate professor of Spanish in the School of Modern Languages. “This approach blurs the lines between serving and learning, giving and receiving, and experience and education.”

Comfort attributes her interest in service learning to teaching English as a Second Language courses as an undergraduate student.

“Doing this helped me speak Spanish fluently, but it also taught me the value of interacting and working with people from other cultures,” she said. “I learned so much beyond the walls of a classroom, and I want to provide opportunities for my students to have the same experiences.”

Since arriving at Georgia Tech in 2005, Comfort has developed or revised three courses for students that integrate learning language with community outreach. In SPAN 4150, Spanish Service Learning in the Hispanic Community, students design their own community service projects and commit to 30 volunteer hours during the semester. The course focuses on the Hispanic immigrant experience.

SPAN 4251, Hispanic Community Internship, places students in 60-hour internships with local businesses or organizations that work with the area’s Latino community. SPAN 4500, Intercultural Seminar, is a revised senior capstone course that integrates community outreach, roundtable discussions with Hispanic community leaders, and case study projects about the problems and challenges faced by the local Hispanic immigrant community.

“It’s a bit like studying abroad without ever having to leave Atlanta,” said Comfort, who received Georgia Tech’s 2013 Innovation in Co-Curricular Education and Class of 1940 W. Howard Ector Outstanding Teacher awards. “I love how this approach allows students to hone their language skills, while they learn about diversity and civic engagement.”

Read on to learn more about Comfort and her time at Georgia Tech.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?       
First, I wanted to be an actress, and then I wanted to be a broadcast journalist. But as a junior in college, I decided to change majors and shifted to international studies and comparative literature. To be in comparative lit, you had to know two languages, which led me to Spanish. 

How did you arrive at Georgia Tech?      
This is actually the job I took right after graduate school. My parents live in Peachtree City, and I was fascinated by how the School of Modern Languages was teaching Spanish in very useful ways, so coming here just made sense.

Tell us about your research.
I focus on the intersection between Latin American and European literature from about 1880 to 1910 and have looked at topics such as the changing role of art and the artist at this time, and the interaction between aesthetics and economics.  

What have you learned from your students?     
Since my students have studied abroad or are from a number of Spanish-speaking countries, I’m always learning new words and phrases that are unique to specific areas.

What is your favorite spot on campus?
The International House, which is a ThinkBig Living and Learning Community ( I’m a little biased because I’m the faculty director, but it’s the place on campus where I wish I could live if I were a student. The I-House is a place where students from all backgrounds — international and not — live together. It’s a place that combines my love for language, culture, and learning.  

Where do you like to have lunch?
I’m a fan of Osteria Del Figo, and I always order the lasagna.

Tell us something unique about yourself.
Years ago, I swam a marathon in 16 hours, which was something that a swimming coach made me do. Recently, I did my first triathlon to get back into shape after having two kids. I really like the mental challenge that’s involved.



  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Amelia Pavlik
  • Created:05/14/2013
  • Modified By:Fletcher Moore
  • Modified:10/07/2016