portrait of distinguished looking manAround 5 p.m. in downtown Washington, D.C., the city hits quitting time. Professionals stream out of large office buildings and many head to into the Capital’s (arguably) favorite pastime: happy hour.

J.R. Denson ’09 (Spanish BA with a minor in Teaching English as a Second Language) leaves his work as a health policy analyst and travels to a popular Latino bar. Once a month, armed with a large roll of “Hola, me llamo ______” nametags, J.R. hosts one of the city’s most popular Spanish-speaking meetup groups. The group, regularly attended by 80-100 people, is a mix of native speakers and language learners. Although J.R.’s career has focused on health education and now health policy, he’s found time over the last several years to create a place for others to practice language skills … and he even finds time to teach salsa dancing!

Thinking back over his time at UF, studying abroad in Santiago, Chile, for two semesters was a clear highlight for J.R.. He remembers being glad he chose to live with a host family instead of with other students because “living there forced me to speak Spanish even when it wasn’t convenient or if I wasn’t ‘in the mood’ that day.” The experience paid off and his Spanish skills improved considerably.

Upon graduating, J.R. returned home to the Washington, D.C. area where he spent two years working with a community-based nonprofit that partnered with the DC public school system. His Spanish skills often came in handy in unexpected but often meaningful scenarios, such as tutoring ESL students in high school algebra and geometry.

Now having completed graduate school, he spends his days doing public health research and advocacy with a national think tank. J.R. continues to practice and deepen his Spanish skills to be ready to use them whenever the opportunity or need arises.