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School of Humanities head Kerry Taylor, Argentine Ambassador Fernando Escalona,
Spanish senior lecturer Leonel Alvarado, students Deborah Thompson and Lida Penn-Reina and Spanish lecturer Celina Bortolotto

Ambassador presents prize to top Spanish students

A Colombian-born teacher and a student who has never set foot in a Spanish-speaking nation have won the Argentine Embassy Prizes.

Argentine Ambassador Fernando Escalona presented top Spanish students Deborah Thompson and Lida Penn-Reina with the prizes at an Argentine-inspired lunch on the Manawatu campus today.

Mr Escalona congratulated the students and spoke of the embassy’s excellent relationship with the University and keenness to support the Spanish programme.

The prize – now in its second year – recognises academic achievement in Spanish language and culture papers. Miss Thompson won the 200-level and Mrs Penn-Reina the 300-level prize for the 2012 academic year.

Colombian-born Mrs Penn-Reina met her Kiwi husband in Guatemala and moved to New Zealand 18 years ago. She is a Spanish teacher at Cullinane College in Whanganui and studied Spanish at Massey as her overseas qualifications were not recognised here.

Being a native speaker did not give her an advantage, she says, as the programme was bilingual with readings and course work in English – though it did deepen her appreciation of her culture. “I learnt more about my culture and found my identity in a New Zealand land, being a Latin American. It’s been great."

Mrs Penn-Reina, a distance student, praised Massey’s Spanish lecturers. “They are wonderful. They run an amazing machine, very efficient, but very personal and they always try to look after you no matter what, that’s been key.”

It is the second year in a row Miss Thompson has topped her class after she won the 100-level prize last year. She will put her language skills to the test in August when she goes on exchange to Alicante on the east coast of Spain, and then hopes to stay on in Madrid as a teaching language asssitant.

“It will be my first time in a Spanish speaking country, you really can’t consider your study of language complete until you have been to a place where it’s spoken," she says.

Spanish lecturer Dr Leonel Alvarado says the prize recognises and rewards the students’ hard work and reaffirms Massey’s wonderful relationship with the Argentine embassy.  “The support we get from the embassy is really valuable not only for the Spanish programme, but for Massey. It’s a friendly relationship between Massey and the embassy and we want that to continue.”

Kathleen Edmonds, a distance student from Auckland, won the 100-level prize but was unable to attend the event.

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