Foreign Language Teaching Assistant spotlight: Dayana Velasquez

Located to the north of Ecuador’s capital Quito, the region of Otavalo is home to rich indigenous cultures that are recognized globally for their iconic clothing, textiles, and handcrafts. Dayana Velasquez, our 2023–2024 Quechua Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA), is proud to represent her home and Otavaleña culture in South Bend, as it has held a deep significance throughout her life. She said that to be Otavalon is to be rich in culture, and in addition to her FLTA responsibilities, she has been creating educational Quechua and Otavalon material for her TikTok to share with the next generation of Otavalons to create more interest and excitement for her culture. Before being able to share Quechua with the world, however, Dayana wanted to learn English.

Dayana’s first exposure to English came in classes at her community school when some US volunteers made the trek to her rural town to teach a few classes. Although her initial encounter with English was limited to a few simple songs and games, Dayana immediately enjoyed it. As she progressed through school, there were limited opportunities to engage with English, but the memory of English activities remained present as she enrolled in Universidad Tecnica del Norte in the Otavalo hub of Ibarra. There, she studied Language Teaching Methods with the ultimate goal of becoming a Quechua teacher. Before she could achieve this, however, she wanted to get a firm mastery over English, and took university courses accordingly. While it was difficult to adjust to living in a bigger city, university gave Dayana the chance to pursue English more intensely than her previous study routine of Duolingo involved. After graduating, Dayana returned to her home town to teach English and give her students more opportunities than she had during her youth to learn the language. After 6 months of teaching, a conversation with a teaching colleague led her to the Fulbright application.

Here at Notre Dame, Dayana is teaching Quechua, holding office hours, and working as a Quechua tutor. Additionally, she has hosted Quechua mini-courses, opportunities for all students, faculty and staff to learn Quechua and Ecuadorian culture, regardless of previous experience. They have been a great opportunity to expand Quechua past those enrolled in her classroom and with the broader Notre Dame campus. She is also enrolled in classes in romance language teaching methods and American studies. Because her teaching and studying schedule can sometimes be hectic, she has turned to ultimate frisbee to take a break from the academic rigor of her daily life. Dayana had past experience playing soccer and was tempted to join a team, but her desire to try something new and step outside of her comfort zone led her to frisbee. She has loved the experience, as it has allowed her to fully immerse herself in English and American culture.

For Dayana, teaching has become a sort of therapy. When she enters the classroom, she can forget about the outside world to focus on her students at the material for the day. Seeing her students make gradual progress and their satisfaction with their education gives her immense fulfillment. Additionally, having the opportunity to spread her local culture and traditional customs has been a unique opportunity that she is extremely grateful for. During the last Quechua mini course, she shared the traditional snacks of colada morada and guagua de pan with participants, eaten in celebration for Día de los Muertos.

While newer generations of Otavalons have been less enamored with their culture than previous generations, Dayana has shared these successes with home through social media to connect with her community and show them the importance of not only Otavalon culture, but learning a second language as well. Learning a new language has allowed Dayana to connect with new cultures, expand her worldview, and make meaningful relationships with people. Because of doors that were opened because of her multilingualism, Dayana also has goals learning French to further broaden her worldview, hoping to go to Paris one day. However, Dayana is in no rush to get there, happy with life on campus, the serenity of the lakes, and being a strong representative of Otavalo and Ecuadorian culture.


Originally published by Luke Van de Walle at on November 10, 2023.