Emma Adams

Emma has just returned to her home state of Maine after almost 5 years working at the American Embassy in Rome, Italy, where she was frequently a source of language and cultural tips and hints to both the American and Italian staff there. Emma always felt a strong connection to her Italian heritage – her great-grandparents had emigrated from Southern Italy to the US shortly after the turn of the century. She moved to Italy after recognizing this part of her personal history, and of course Italy in general, was a recurring theme in her whole adult life. At Smith College, Introduction to Italian was the one and only course she knew she wanted to take as a freshman. That led to a Junior Year Abroad experience in Florence, Italy, and a double major in Psychology and Italian Language & Literature.

After graduation, Emma moved to Boston, Massachusetts, to work for an Italian tour operator, where she had the amazing opportunity to not only design individual and group tours to Italy, but to continue using her language skills, to visit new destinations herself, and to provide destination assistance and customer service to her American clients, many traveling abroad for the first time. Three years later, she moved to Rome to fulfill an old dream of living abroad; she found an apartment near the Tiber River, a job at the Embassy, and began what would become a 5 year adventure as an American in Italy. She recently moved back to Maine and is thrilled to be able to help others experience the magical feeling of communicating in a second language, especially a language she particularly loves.

Back to Top

Nela Alvarez-Sotomayor 

Nela comes from Puerto Rico and spent her childhood summers with her extended family in Spain. Growing up in a bilingual family, opened up the doors for her to pursue her undergraduate studies in Fine Art Photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology after her graduate studies in teaching at the University of Southern Maine. For the past 25 years she has been teaching Spanish and Photography at South Portland High School.

Throughout her life she has traveled to many countries in Central and South America, Europe and the Caribbean. She has led a group of students to Costa Rica to work with the leatherback turtles, and volunteered with a local school in Guatemala.

Nela always tells her students how lucky she is to be able to teach the two subject matters most adults want to learn but never get around to: Spanish and photography. She enjoys sharing her photography and all of her travel adventures.

Nela resides in Cape Elizabeth with her liver spotted Dalmatian, Carmina. When Nela is not teaching, you can find her playing tennis, skiing, baking, or making plans for her next trip.

Back to Top

Enrico Della Pietra

Enrico was born in the city of Naples, Italy, where he lived for most of his life. He received a degree in Physical Education at the University of Naples, and a degree in Education Sciences, with a specialization in History and Philosophy at the University of Cassino. Enrico has  nearly 30 years of experience working as a teacher, both at the University and high school levels while concurrently working as a coach and strength and conditioning trainer for soccer and basketball teams. He has been a prolific traveler throughout his life, having proudly stepped into every continent.

He relocated to Maine in the summer of 2015 and began his American journey and work at Language Exchange, honored to share with other Italophiles the beauty of Italy’s language, arts, customs, and all other lesser-known aspects of the Italian lifestyle. Concurrently, he opened his very own photography studio to pursue his passion for contemporary history and photography and to share it with his new community.

Fast forward beyond a few life twists and turns and Enrico is back in Naples but still working with us to the delight of his students!

Back to Top

Diana Domínguez

Diana was born and raised in Venezuela, into a Venezuelan/American bilingual family. As a child she moved around a lot, with frequent summer visits to her grandparents in Wisconsin, and two years in Holland, where she graduated from an American high school.
She graduated as a Psychologist in Caracas, Venezuela, after which she spent a year in Paris to polish her French. She was a Social Psychology Professor at the Universidad Central in Venezuela for over 20 years.
Upon retiring, she embarked on a second career as an ESL teacher as well as an English-Spanish and Spanish-English translator. She also went back to her youthful passion of photography, taking courses in a Venezuelan photography school, which gave her the opportunity to indulge in a second passion -travel- and to participate as a photographer in various projects and events.
Diana has recently relocated to Portland to live near her daughter and is excited to be able to help others learn to communicate in Spanish and to share her Latin American culture and experiences. At the same time, one of her great pleasures in teaching is being able to learn from her students.
Her free time is spent walking around Portland, reading and photographing and, whenever possible, travelling.

Back to Top


Nina Garces Ornstein

Nina’s education, training as a teacher, professional experience, and deep familiarity with English and Latin cultures are at the core of her facility for understanding and assisting adult learners on their quest to acquire or perfect their communication skills in the Spanish language.

Nina was born and raised in Lima, Peru, in a family that originates from Spain and the Basque country. After high school she travelled to London to become a Montessori teacher and taught Spanish through music to pre-school children. A visit to family in New York City later prompted her decision to study computer science and stay in the United States. During that time Nina further applied her interest and skills in teaching as she engaged in tutoring services for intermediate and advanced students of Spanish.

In 1987, Nina and her husband moved to Maine where she worked as a Systems Manager for an insurance agency. As a parent seeking the flexibility afforded by home-based offices, Nina launched on a new path in 1995 upon completing the written part of the US Federal Court Interpreting Certification. She created MTIS – Maine Translation and Interpreting Services – an English-Spanish translation business that she led for nearly 10 years. She then returned to a data and business analyst career for Thomson Reuters’ Life Sciences division where she continued to use her Spanish to assist various pharmaceutical industry clients in Spain and Latin America.

Yearning for a Spanish-speaking community with which to share her language and culture, Nina coordinated a casual Spanish conversation group for 25 of its now 30 years of existence!

Nina lives in Scarborough with her husband and visits Peru regularly where she still has family. She enjoys skiing, snowshoeing, watercolors, and playing her accordion when she feels nostalgic. Nina is looking forward to imparting her life-long commitment to, and experience with acquiring language and communication skills with her new students at The Language Exchange.

Back to Top

Angela Gozálvez

Angela Gozalvez was born and raised in La Paz, Bolivia. She graduated from Law School and has a Master’s Degree in Economic Law.

She worked for 7 years as an attorney for Iberdrola, one of the largest multinational companies in the energy field, where she met her husband. In November 2007 they moved their family to the United States, first to Pennsylvania and then to Maine, where she has found her happy place.

With new-found energy, Angela decided to leave the law and change careers to pursue one of her biggest passions, the Language Arts, and find an outlet to express herself as a proud Latina woman. She began working as an editor for DIGITALIA, Inc., a publishing company with offices in Spain and New York, in 2011 and concurrently, followed her desire to further share her culture and language by first organizing informal classes, Spanish conversation gatherings, as well as private lessons, and in the fall of 2017, joining the faculty of The Language Exchange.

Being married to a Spaniard, raising trilingual kids and traveling to South America and Spain every year, allows her to have a perfect sense of the cultural differences that affect the use of the Spanish language and its interactions.

Back to Top

Valérie Guillet

Valérie founded The Language Exchange in 1992 and has been its director since. She was born in France in a small town located between Annecy (Haute-Savoie) and Genève (Switzerland). She grew up in this French part of the Alps and lived there until 1986 when she began College at the Université Jean Moulin, Lyon III. She started a Master’s Degree in Business and Languages which she completed in the MBA program at SUNY Binghamton while on an exchange program. While at Binghamton, she started an interdisciplinary graduate program where she specialized in Social Sciences – adult development – and Translation, fields in which she had a keen interest.

Following her thesis, a translation of Joyce Carol Oates’ All The Good People I’ve Left Behind, she decided to move to Maine where she has lived ever since. It now feels like home to her although her heart and soul always seem to be rejuvenated when she has an opportunity to speak French and be around French people. Something with which most expatriates can identify. She goes to France every year, sometimes more than once, and receives the best of both worlds. Her travels have allowed her to see her country in a different light and in a way to keep a more objective opinion of the culture of which she is a product. As such, she has rediscovered Provence where she spent most of her summer vacations as a child – when not in Italy to visit her relatives – and continues to find it an idyllic place and hopes to be able to share this vision with you. As for Martinique, Dordogne, and wherever else her next immersion programs will take her, they are parts of France she first encountered through literature and later on explored and studied until it became impossible to not want to share all of their little secrets.

Valérie has taught children and adults alike for the past 30 years with the same passion and commitment to her students’ progress and enjoyment. She has been a Lecturer at Southern Maine Community College, the University of Southern Maine, and Bowdoin College. She also spent 10 years as a three-season track coach for young women at Cheverus high school in Portland. When a teacher, always a teacher. It doesn’t matter what you teach if it’s your life’s calling!

Back to Top

Madoka Iriguchi Tonge

Madoka Iriguchi Burkinshaw

Madoka was born and raised in Ehime, Japan. After she earned her degree in English Literature from the Women’s College of Kyoto, she worked for several Japanese companies such as Japan Financial News, Kanebo, and Sony. Since she was drawn to travel overseas, she went to Canada to further her studies of English and worked for a travel agency in Niagara Falls. Before coming to the United States, she traveled to many countries from Europe to Asia gaining many firsthand cultural experiences.
She attended the University of Southern Maine and earned her B.S. in Computer Science in 2004. She has been teaching Japanese in private lessons and group classes at The Language Exchange since 2006 as a way of staying connected and sharing her culture and language. She currently lives in Dover, New Hampshire.

Back to Top

Viveca Kwan

Viveca Kwan

Viveca is an American born Chinese and was raised bilingually, speaking both Mandarin and English while growing up on the East Coast. With her dual perspectives and experiences Viveca is able to bridge both cultures and effectively teach Chinese language and culture especially to native English speaking students who may have had limited exposure to Mandarin Chinese. She has spoken Mandarin since birth and continued her formal language studies at Brown University, The American University Washington College of Law and abroad in China. She has participated in a Chinese law program at Peking University in Beijing during law school and has traveled extensively throughout China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.

Viveca Kwan is a Maine certified K-12 Mandarin Chinese teacher and has been teaching Mandarin and Chinese culture to students of all ages from pre-K to adults in the greater Portland area for over 10 years. Viveca has taught an introductory Mandarin course at Cape Elizabeth High School and also has taught Mandarin and Chinese culture enrichment courses at the Chinese American Friendship Association of Maine’s Chinese School in Portland. She has tutored adults in conversational and business Chinese. Viveca’s classes are designed to be both instructional and fun, engaging students of all ages in interactive activities that appeal to various learning styles. Traditional and modern Chinese culture is integrated into each language lesson through music, art, games and multi-media materials.

Back to Top

Andy MacDonald

Andy MacDonald was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and grew up in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. He holds a BA in French Studies from Mount Allison University, in Sackville, New Brunswick, and an MA and PhD in French Literature from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He has studied in Strasbourg, France, and lived and worked in Tours and Toulouse. He has taught in universities and colleges in Colorado, Iowa, and Pennsylvania.

He is a passionate scholar and practitioner of theatre and performance in French and English. He loves to engage students by helping them learn to express themselves, and to connect with others through language and self-expression. He is particularly fond of helping students develop their language skills in connection with their knowledge of francophone cultures, and brings a spirit of improvisational play to teaching.

Back to Top

Cathrin Mayer

Cathrin was born in Germany and grew up in a small town near Stuttgart. Growing up in Europe, near the French and Swiss border she’s always had a passion for other cultures and languages. She spent her gap year in Paris and went on to study French, English, and Art at the Pädagogische Hochschule in Freiburg where she received a bachelor’s degree in Education.

During her studies she gained in-classroom experience as a student teacher at Memorial Middle School in South Portland. She had no idea at the time that the beautiful coast of Maine would become her new home!

Upon moving to Maine and starting a family with her husband, Cathrin worked at Cricket Hunt School in Freeport as a French teacher for seven years where she shared her enthusiasm and knowledge of the French language and culture. She’s also worked as a translator from English into German and English into French.

Cathrin lives in South Portland with her husband, their three children and dog. She loves long walks with her lab-retriever, exploring the outdoors with her family, practising yoga and mindfulness, as well as creating art. She feels fortunate and excited for the opportunity to share her mother language and culture with adult learners who are equally passionate about new languages and cultures.

Back to Top

Ryan Morrison

Ryan is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Texas at Austin, specializing in Luso-Brazilian Cultural and Media Studies. His thesis analyzes constructions of race and masculinity in the transnational frontier of the Pampas between Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina.  He holds an MA in Hispanic Studies from Villanova University and a BA in Creative Writing and Latin American History from the University of Pittsburgh. Ryan has taught Latin American Languages and Culture at the post-secondary level since 2014.

With the Language Exchange, Ryan teaches Portuguese mainly to faculty in the Greater Portland Area’s School Districts engaging with Angolan refugee students and families. He has worked in migrant advocacy as the Lead Interpreter and Mentor at the Clinic for Asylum, Refugee & Emigrant Services at Villanova Law School, and has interpreted for Spanish and Portuguese-speaking migrants with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In his spare time, he enjoys training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, rock climbing and playing guitar.

Back to Top

Marlies Reppenhagen

Marlies grew up in the Hanseatic city of Lübeck. Her interest in languages and other cultures first brought her to Maine as an exchange student, but her affection for Maine and its people eventually led her to move here permanently. For the last eighteen years, she has lived in Portland, where the proximity of the ocean and the handsome brick buildings remind her of her native city.

Marlies has a degree in teaching English and French from the University of Freiburg and a M.A. in German from Middlebury College; she has taught German at the high school and college level as well as in adult education programs. Her interests include hiking, biking, reading, and traveling – and always learning more languages!

Back to Top

Kaoru Watanabe Phillips

Kaoru Watanabe Phillips

Kaoru is a native of Chiba, Japan. She received a BA in Anthropology/Geography and an MA in Adult Education from USM. She is currently Assistant Director of International Programs at USM. Kaoru advises and assists ESOL, international and study abroad students. She is also an advisor to USM’s Asian American Association and Symposium student organization.

Kaoru is a member of Maine Aomori Sister State Advisory Council (MASSAC) and a member of the Japan American Society of Maine.

Back to Top

Go to Top