Most students who have ever taken a Spanish course would attest to Dr. Geoffrey Mitchell’s love of the language. Associate professor of Spanish, Mitchell is known for his sense of humor and expertise in all things Latin America.
His journey from the average monolingual to fluent Spanish professor began in high school.
After taking a standard Spanish course, Mitchell said that he found he had an interest in languages. His Spanish teacher recommended he spend time abroad as an exchange student in Mexico.
“I think that just sparked everything,” Mitchell said. “It was near rural, beautiful mountains, with not much to do except ride horses and attempt to play soccer.”
Spending seven months in an area near Mexico City, Mitchell said that his time there helped him to naturally form a stronger grasp on the language. According to Mitchell, his time in Mexico proved to be the beginning of a life-long interest in Latin American culture.
However, despite his passion for Spanish, Mitchell said that his college path did not begin with a concentration in the language. An avid outdoorsman, Mitchell said that he enjoyed cycling, trout fishing and hunting, and had other plans for his future before pursuing language.
“I wanted to either be a pilot or a park ranger,” Mitchell said.
He said that his love for language resurfaced quickly, however, and he decided to pursue Spanish. He attended the University of Missouri in Columbia, and continued onto Tulane University, after taking time off of his studies to teach. From a private Christian school to what he referred to as a “gang-infested” public school, Mitchell said that he has plethora of educational experience, and he thinks that students can notice it because of the passion he has for teaching.
“I like to have fun, joke around, play with the language and use outrageous examples,” Mitchell said.
For Mitchell, he said that he believes it is important for a student to be able to mess up without feeling like a failure.
“I really want to make people comfortable,” Mitchell said. “It’s really hard learning a foreign language.”
Just as he went on his own journey to a foreign country in his youth, Mitchell said that he is very pleased with Spanish majors that spend time abroad.
“It’s fun here to see somebody start, not knowing much, then they get to the point where they’re ready to go abroad,” Mitchell said. “It’s a complete metamorphosis.”
Even outside of the classroom, Mitchell said that he believes his students are making a positive impact in the community of Maryville. A number of Spanish students are involved doing service work with local Spanish-speaking individuals.
“They’re investing a large portion of their life doing practica in the community,” Mitchell said. “It’s highly regarded in the Latino community.”
Outside of work, Mitchell has some important ties to Latin America. His wife is from Brazil, and his two daughters speak both Portuguese and English. He said that raising the girls to be bilingual has been a “testament to how important it is to start learning early.”
Mitchell said that because his father was a professor, education has always been important to him, particularly in reading.
“Reading’s been important in helping me learn the differences between Latin American countries and cultures,” Mitchell said. “You find that through reading books.”
Mitchell said that his love for education, language and Latin American culture have continued to grow as he teaches at MC.
“Students do a lot of good things here. I’m really proud of the work they do,” Mitchell said. “I couldn’t be happier.”