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Meet Dannia of ¡Hola! Learn Spanish in Highlands Denver

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dannia from ¡Hola! Learn Spanish.

Dannia, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I am originally from Lima, Peru. I was born and raised in the city, amongst the busyness of a city that holds around 10,000,000 people. I graduated from San Marcos University, the oldest university in South America. My major was Clinical Psychology and my minor was English; I’ve always had a love for this language. In 2002, I had the great opportunity to be part of a cultural exchange program here in the U.S. This adventure took me to Vermont during my summer break from school so it was winter there. Yes! I know what you are thinking! I guess you can tell I was very young. I had no idea where I was going, I didn’t know anybody in the US and I wasn’t fluent in English. But I took the risk, I took a leap of faith. I was fortunate to be able to complete this program twice. The second time around while in Vermont, I met the kindest man I have ever known. A year later in Peru, we got married and I permanently moved to the U.S. in 2005.

Once I finally settled into my new life, I decided I wanted to work in the field of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. I didn’t have any real work experience here so I had to start building my resume. In the beginning, I took office jobs in supporting roles. And after a while, I was able to obtain an entry-level job in the HR Department of a big corporation. I was absolutely ecstatic and determined to succeed as a professional in this country. My dream was to become an HR executive for an American Corporation. I started at the ground level and I had to learn everything about employment law in America. I had a steep learning curve but I was committed to working untiringly. I even obtained an MBA while working full-time.

In the last couple of years of my HR career, which lasted for a decade, I was working as an HR manager for a large corporation in a job that was extremely demanding. At this point in my life, I started to question my decision to work in a large corporation. I felt a need to take control of my life and do things my way and to own my future. I always knew that being bilingual was a valuable skill, I thought that teaching Spanish would be a good business idea. So, I put an ad on Craigslist and I got my first student, and right away I realized how much I truly enjoy teaching. And that is when “¡Hola! Learn Spanish” was born. I had found something that made me happy. I had created something for myself and it would become everything I had always looked for.

I also took time to discover what hobbies I liked. In my spare time, I make handcrafted jewelry.  Who knew I was creative and artistic! I have an Etsy shop called Peruvian Bonds. I work with authentic Peruvian gemstones and other beautiful gems to create unique pieces of bohemian jewelry. Art is truly therapeutic, it has helped me discover a different side of myself.

Has it been a smooth road?
I have faced many challenges along the way but I am so grateful for the many opportunities available to me in the U.S. I always make the distinction that when you are a visitor in a country, it is a very fun experience. But when you need to start building a life in a country that isn’t yours, the reality is very different and it can be difficult. I needed to learn the system and adapt to a new culture. I had left my family and friends back in Peru and I had to find my place in this new world. It was isolating at times.

When I was part of the cultural exchange program, my biggest challenge was not to be fluent in English. Try to get a job when you aren’t fluent! (laughs). I took two different jobs to support myself, I was working as a helper in a cafeteria during the day, and I was a dishwasher at a restaurant at night. Those were the best job opportunities I could find. By the time I moved to the states permanently, I was fluent in English. However, when I started my corporate career, I needed to learn the HR and legal jargon. I spent a lot of hours studying, researching, attending classes and reaching out to experienced professionals. This was a specialized level of the language that was unknown to me until then.

When I decided to start my own business in 2016, the challenge was how to create something out of nothing. I didn’t have a clientele, I wasn’t known in the community, I had to make a name for myself. I didn’t have a marketing budget, so I had to find the best channels to promote my services. I started out with one student, teaching one hour a week. I had to wait to work with a student long enough so I could ask for a review, and then more students and referrals starting coming my way. Today, between my private classes (in-person and online) and group lessons, I am working full-time as a Spanish teacher, and my business is still growing.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
I created “¡Hola! Learn Spanish” in 2016. I have always known there is an interest in learning Spanish in the U.S. and around the world. I offer private in-person Spanish classes in the Denver area and Spanish online classes, which has allowed me to have a bigger reach of students, even outside of the state of Colorado. Within these two modalities, I teach Spanish classes for beginners, intermediate and advanced level. I also offer conversational Spanish classes, these are very popular classes. These classes offer students the opportunity to practice what they have learned.  Spanish classes for travelers, in which you learn not only helpful expressions to get around a city, but also, you have the opportunity to practice with me, a native Spanish speaker, which will play an important role in tuning your listening skills. Spanish tutoring, I work with high school and college students providing extra support on the subject of Spanish. Spanish on the run, these classes are for students that aren’t able to have a recurrent class schedule, so they can pick up a class when they can. Finally, I teach Spanish group classes, I keep these classes between 4-6 students max. to be able to still provide one-on-one guidance.

My intention every day, when I am teaching a class, is to offer a learning experience that will make each of my students feel empowered. Learning a new language can be very intimidating and it isn’t always easy. I know that from experience, I understand what it takes to learn a second language, I have gone thru the process. That is why it is extremely important for me to create a safe learning environment. Where they can learn how far they can go, and where it is ok to make mistakes. I am my students’ biggest fan! I celebrate their efforts and hard work and, during my classes, you will often see me clapping, dancing, singing and screaming out of excitement. I am Hispanic after all! (laughs). I can tell you my best moments as a teacher are when students surprise themselves and achieve a milestone in their journey that they never thought it was possible for them to reach.

I also like taking time to get to know each of my students on a personal level. I care about learning how their week has been. This will have a huge impact on how they are feeling during class and I am mindful of that. It is important for me to have a relationship with them in addition to the teacher-student relationship. It truly feels like we are friends, learning Spanish together! That is who I am, I enjoy connecting with people, I am naturally friendly, warm and welcoming. And my business is a reflection of that, I couldn’t do it any other way.

It has taken hard work, dedication, and perseverance to get here. I am absolutely proud of how much my business has grown and all the positive feedback that I receive for the work I do. This is just the beginning, I am deeply excited to see what the future holds. But I have to take a moment to express my immense gratitude to each one of my students, for their trust and unconditional support during these years. It is an honor to work with them every day. All of this has been possible because of them. And, of course, my loving husband, who has been there for me during the highs and lows and never lost faith in me and what I could do.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I think Denver is a great community that values what small businesses offer to the city. I have found the people of Denver very supportive of my business and they truly wish for me to be successful. Denver is a great city in which to own a business and I am very proud of being part of a city like this.

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