I acquired my love for the Spanish language during the summer of 2003 when I worked as a babysitter for the grandchildren of my next-door neighbors in Nahant, Massachusetts, my hometown. All four grandchildren spoke only Spanish and French (they are originally from Belgium) and I spent the summer battling our language barrier in utter frustration with the few Spanish words I knew. As challenging as that summer was, it was the first experience that taught me the importance of speaking another language. After that summer, I promised myself that I would overcome my frustration by one day mastering the Spanish language.
The truth is that learning another language was not even on my radar when I applied to St. Lawrence during the fall of my senior year at Swampscott High School in Swampscott, Massachusetts. I visited St. Lawrence for the first time as a tennis recruit and was intrigued by the sense of community I immediately felt on campus. Moreover, I loved the idea of receiving a liberal arts education in classes with an eleven to one student /faculty ratio and in a place where there would be few off-campus distractions. The reality is that I did not fully understand what it meant to receive a liberal arts education until I became absorbed in the subject matter of my First Year Program, “Making a Difference.” In this class, professors Dr. Elizabeth Regosin and Dr. Ron Flores urged students to consider that receiving a liberal arts education does not only entail acquiring general knowledge to develop various intellectual capabilities. Receiving a liberal arts education also entails providing students with the knowledge and the means to assert themselves as passionate, challenging, and critical individuals of society. This class inspired me to reflect upon my role as a student, as an individual, and as a citizen of the world. My mission at St. Lawrence thus became to attain the skills and knowledge that would help me develop a sense of social understanding that would prepare me deal with the complexity of the world outside the campus. Studying abroad seemed like a crucial component to this process.
I chose to study abroad in Madrid, Spain for my entire junior year because I wanted to fully immerse myself in a culture distinct from my own and become fluent in Spanish, as I had promised myself the summer of 2003. I was ready academically to put myself in a learning environment that would challenge me to assert myself in different ways. I had completed Spanish 201 and Spanish 202, which provided me with essential language skills, and had taken “Cultures of Spain,” which provided me with a rich understanding of the history and cultural identities of Spain before studying there. As prepared as I was, studying abroad was still one of the most challenging, but powerful experiences of my life. I learned the importance of feeling uncomfortable and out of place at times. I learned to listen. I learned that communicating and making connections with others is critical to understanding oneself. I learned that speaking another language not only allows one to communicate with a greater and more diverse portion of the world, but it also allows one to see and experience life from another perspective. The director of the abroad program in Spain at the time and current Co-chair of the Language Department and Associate Professor of Spanish, Dr. Marina Llorente, inspired me more than any other professor or person in my decision to study abroad and in my actual experience in Spain. She constantly pushed me, and still pushes me to question my own thoughts, beliefs, and ideas in order to be an engaged, civic participant of the society in which I am situated. I will continue to do this for the rest of my life no matter where I am situated on the globe.
Although I cannot find a bull fight or a Real Madrid soccer game on campus, I am hardly bored here as a senior. The truth is that campus actually feels bigger than when I left it. I think this is because my experience abroad reinforced the importance of communication, and I am thus committed to communicating (in Spanish and in English) with as many students and professors as possible before I graduate. This is not an easy task. For this reason I have been exploring academic and social options I had never been willing to consider before. Living on the Intercultural floor has significantly stimulated this process as well as “Tea Time,” an event for bringing international students and American students together on the International floor every Wednesday night. Moreover, working on campus as a Teacher’s Assistant for a one hundred level Spanish class and as a Spanish writing tutor in the Language Writing Center have been positive components in coming into contact with students from other grades as well as with students who are native Spanish speakers. As for my plans after I graduate, I am hoping to live in Chile for a couple of years to become proficient in Latin American Spanish (different from Castilian which I learned in Spain) and then find a way to incorporate Spanish in whatever I choose to do professionally. I am open to all options leading to my future profession and hope to learn at least one more language on the way.