February 10, 2013. 12:28 a.m.
My flight leaves in just over eighteen hours.
It all seems so unreal.
Wasn’t I just that second-grader, transferring from Overland Park, Kansas, to Greenville, South Carolina, and experiencing the Spanish language for the first time? Then that eager-to-please third-grader, accepting the challenge to speak Spanish for half the school day over the next three years? What about the fifth-grader with sights aimed high, writing her first real essay in a Spanish class after returning from a two-week mission trip in Cancun, Mexico?
My unique educational upbringing most certainly shaped my attitude as a student and future traveler. Even though Spanish would be moved to the back burner until high school and international travel until college, my short time spent at Blythe Academy of Languages stirred in me the potential to not only become bilingual but to develop critical thinking skills, adapt to an environment with higher expectations as well as less familiarity, feel the thrill of greater independence, and value cultures outside of my own. Obviously, my fifth-grade mind didn’t think in these terms. But as they say, hindsight is twenty-twenty. Looking back, I can see how these valuable characteristics cultivated as I moved into the next few stages of my life, and the experiences that introduced these character traits were what I returned to as time went on.
High schools require two years of a foreign language to graduate. I already knew basic Spanish from my elementary years, so it seemed like the logical option. What I didn’t expect was to rediscover a passion for the language and fascination with the different cultures. Two years turned into three, then four. In my senior year, I had the incredible opportunity to volunteer in the trial run of Wade Hampton High School’s Hispanic Mentoring Program, in which I taught English to two ESOL students who had only barely been exposed to it. There’s a lot that I could say about teaching styles and techniques that I learned during that time, but my biggest takeaway from that semester was the importance of being able to communicate across language barriers. It wasn’t only a question of knowledge for these middle school students. The more that they learned and grew comfortable practicing with me, the more motivated they were to continue and the more confident they became outside of our meetings. I found empowerment on both sides, being able to connect through language.
My senior year experience, more than any class, is what convinced me to add Spanish as a double major to my intended chemistry degree. From there, the journey only got better. I enrolled in a civic engagement and service learning course for my Spanish major that introduced me to the Hispanic community in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and allowed me to serve as a playmate and tutor for low-income, primarily minority first-graders. I ended up volunteering at the after-school program once a week for three semesters and taking an active role in Wofford’s on-campus monthly event, La U y Tú; I am now a coordinator for that event.
During my freshman Interim period, I traveled to Viña del Mar, Chile, as part of the Language & Culture through Study Abroad program–my first international experience since fifth grade. The pictures speak for themselves as to how enriching and fun that program was; I came back wishing to return as soon as possible! Then, the following summer, I spent ten weeks interning for an AmeriCorps-sponsored program called Project Transformation in Dallas, Texas. Words cannot express how much that program transformed me. Through teaching, hanging out with, and doing team-building activities with mostly Hispanic youth during the day and engaging in intensive spiritual community with students my age and older every night, I experienced a period of growth that only solidified the path I’m currently taking. My greatest joy and desire is to participate in something meaningful. Witnessing firsthand the positive changes in my youth over the course of eight weeks confirmed that I love to serve and that I relish using and growing my language skills to reach a cultural group that I care deeply about. And in the United States, where the Hispanic population is growing, it’s definitely a useful skill.
All that background is well and good–actually, it seems a little close to my application essay for this semester abroad–but what am I getting at? How do I explain these jitters of anticipation along with the absolute calm of facing my next six months in a South American country that I’ve never visited?
Let’s backtrack from my summer in Texas. I have traveled again since my freshman year, but I think it’s interesting to note that, on my flight in about seventeen-and-a-half hours, I am flying through airports that are connected to my freshman memories. Greenville-Spartanburg to Dallas-Fort Worth first, then from there to Santiago International, and finally to Córdoba. In a way, I get to return to familiar places and relive those moments in memory before venturing into the unknown.
I was pretty excited when I realized that.
Now let’s travel even farther back. Not so far that I’m in second grade again, but in that ballpark: my first real essay in fifth-grade Spanish. It was to be a country overview, including history, geography, economy, and symbols. I had a wonderful teacher from Costa Rica at that point in my life, and this man allowed each of us to choose which country we would present. The better-known options were snatched up quickly–Spain, Mexico, Panama, even Costa Rica. Being the hipster nerd that I was–which actually means that I liked a challenge and the obscure when it came to assignments–I picked a country that I knew absolutely nothing about.
This is where the unreal part comes into play. Who could’ve imagined that the study abroad program that captured my attention and seemed to meet my needs and interests perfectly would be in the same country that my fifth-grade self eagerly researched for a Spanish immersion class? Here’s the breakdown: second-largest city and self-proclaimed college town. One month of intensive language, three months of Spanish elective courses, maybe a chemistry internship, and a crazy amount of travel excursions. Not to mention every form of Latin dancing that supposedly goes on spontaneously in the streets. When I return, I will be a senior at the BEST college in the Southeast and need only one additional literature course to complete my major.
It all feels too good to be true. It’s a dream becoming reality. A goal being accomplished. Six months of adventure!!!!!
So, in approximately sixteen hours and fifty-two minutes, I will board a plane–hopefully by the window–, take a deep breath, play some soothing music, and let the wind carry me to Córdoba, Argentina…my new home.
February 10, 2013. 2:04 a.m.
I am eager, impatient, nervous, thrilled, curious, calm, passionate, READY.
(Did I do an okay job at expressing that?)