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Latin American and Latinx Studies Student Spotlight: AJ Kurfman

Illinois State University’s Latin American and Latino/a studies program is proud to present AJ Kurfman as our spring student spotlight.

headshot of Kurfman

AJ Kurfman

AJ Kurfman, a senior here at Illinois State, is majoring in Spanish with a Latin American and Latino Studies (LALS) minor. This spring, as he finished up his degree, he is doing an internship with the Immigration Project for credit toward the LALS minor. Despite his busy schedule, he made time to share with LALS about himself, his studies, and his experiences at his internship site.

The Immigration Project is a local “nonprofit organization providing immigration legal assistance to the 100,000 immigrants residing in Central and Southern Illinois.”

As intern, Kurfman’s major role is with the New Americans Initiative (NAI) grant through the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR). This grant cuts the cost of the legal processes of becoming a citizen. He closes these special cases single-handedly. “Closing involves scanning and entering information into the Immigration Project system and the NAI specific system,” he explained. He calls clients and schedules appointments with individual clients to check for all the paper work they will need.

On his inspiration to declare the Latin American and Latino/a Studies minor, he shares how his academic advisor and his faculty advisor for the internship (who happens to be the faculty advisor for his study abroad program as well) both recommended he add the Latinx Studies minor. Initially, he was hesitant because of his graduation this May. He did not want to add any additional hours, at the risk of adding time to his college career. However, it turns out that he had already taken a number of classes on Latin America and Latino communities, and would not need to take any more classes once he added the internship.

On the ways declaring a Latin American and Latino/a Studies minor complimented his study of Spanish, Kurfman explained, “the minor complimented my major simply because I already had the interest in Latino studies. I had taken Intro to Latino studies [SOC 109] a couple semesters ago and loved it! I would recommend the LALS minor for any student with a Spanish major, simply because some of the Spanish classes you take can count as well for the minor. Not only that, it helps when one wants to pursue a future degree. One’s background will reflect an understanding of the language as well as the cultures.” Kurfman appreciated the fact that both the Immigration Project and the LALS program care about him and encourage him to do his best.

On his Chile study abroad experience, this is what he had to say: “My experience was an amazing, life-changing one. Being surrounded by native Spanish speakers polished my Spanish ability to a level I had never achieved before. Not only that, I had an amazing host family that really made me a member of the family. My Spanish major definitely helped my school experience in Chile because of the classes I had already taken in complete Spanish.”

On LALS programming and events, he could not remember the name of the speaker for the LALS event he attended. Nevertheless, he absolutely loved it! In his own words, “there was delicious food and lovely music after. I gained some knowledge on current events in the Latino community and some Latin dancing skills, or at least I had a great time trying.”

Kurfman’s favorite class is Intro to US Latino Studies because he learned so much more Latino history than he had in his Spanish classes. In this same class, he recounts discussions on current events and the many connections they were able to make as a class with the outside world.

As advice to students who are considering the LALS minor, Kurfman said, “Do it! It will be worth it! Even if you have to take a couple extra classes, it is absolutely worth it to learn more about the cultures and community you will be engaging in interactions. Learn more about the people you want to help”!

Contact Acting Director of Latin American and Latinx Studies Juliet Lynd, Ph.D., to learn more about the LALS minor, internship opportunities at the Immigration Project or other local community organizations, study abroad in Chile, or a Spanish major or minor.