Hometown: Liberty Lake, WA
Major: International Politics
Post-Graduation Plans: Teaching English abroad
Advice for first-year or prospective students? 1) Go abroad! Traveling the world is the best opportunity W&L has to offer. 2) You don't have to be a Spanish major to speak Spanish, consider a LACS minor and a term abroad instead.
When I first came to Washington and Lee, I was terrified of speaking Spanish. The vastness of mastering an entire new set of language rules and vocabulary overwhelmed me. I didn't like Spanish, and from what I could tell, the feeling was mutual.
But the W&L Center for International Education and the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program (LACS) gave me the opportunities I needed to overcome my fear. I spent last fall term abroad in Seville, Spain, and most recently spent this past whirlwind summer in two vastly different Spanish-speaking countries, Argentina and Costa Rica. When I left Spain, I was comfortable enough to make small talk; when I came back to school this fall, I was confident enough to call myself fluent.
My summer experience began the last day of this past Spring Term. I traveled from Washington, D.C. to Mar del Plata, Argentina. I spent almost two months helping teach English at Holy Trinity College, one of the best bilingual schools in the city.
I was at the school every day from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., but there was hardly a typical day. During my first month, I taught English in the morning to a first grade class, and in the afternoon I helped with a kindergarten class. The first graders were learning to sit quietly and do work, so I was able to help by answering questions. The kindergarteners were more of a handful. In my second month, I switched over to the kindergarten full time, since the class had an important presentation for the parents coming up.
Though I often spent more time running after the kinder class than teaching, it was immensely rewarding getting to work with them all day. I also had to learn to work as bilingually as the children do. At lunchtime, everyone switched from Spanish to English. I learned how to listen in Spanish and respond in English, and vice versa. The children were also the best audience for my growing Spanish that I could have asked for. They didn't judge mistakes and simply wanted me to talk and play with them.
I also fell in love with the Argentine culture. I was given the chance to live with four different host families in my time in Mar del Plata, all of which were Trinity families. The Argentines I met were boisterous and spirited as well as incredibly warm and friendly. The food was unbelievable--I fell in love with dulce de leche (a type of caramel that Argentines love) and Argentine steaks (the best I've ever had). I had a wonderful first half of my summer and was disappointed that I had to leave.
In July, I left the middle of the Argentine winter to arrive just before Costa Rica's rainy season. The climate was hot and muggy waiting for the rain to come, and air conditioning was almost nonexistent. But as unbearable as the climate change was at first, the wonderful hospitality of the people of Nicoya more than made up for it.
For six weeks, my weekdays were filled with intensive Spanish practice at the Academia de Español Nicoya. In the mornings, I had a class by myself or with another student where we could ask any questions we had about the Spanish language, Costa Rica or life in general--as long as the questions were in Spanish. I then walked to the restaurant where worked and learned the ropes of Costa Rican food service, while also learning about their cuisine.
Though I worked at a restaurant, there are a handful of intern opportunities that students could choose from. Students could work as a teacher's aid in an elementary school, a legal aid, a medical aid or as a small business assistant. The Academia recommends the restaurant experience for students who wish practice their oral Spanish. For me it was the right choice--I was constantly interacting with customers and the other workers, which gave me the opportunity to practice my Spanish and to meet new people in the town.
I lived with one host family for my entire stay in Costa Rica, and my host mom was a fabulous cook. We shared recipes and I tried to get in the kitchen as much as I could without getting in her way. Many afternoons were spent chatting and watching Mexican telenovelas with the family. The town of Nicoya itself is a small, sleepy city, so I often spent my nights with the family rather than in the town. During the weekends, there were many nearby beaches and towns to visit, and transportation was inexpensive. There were also trips that students could take with Academia, like to the nearby Arenal Volcano or the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Costa Rica has one of the most lush and beautiful landscapes I have ever seen, and students were encouraged to go out and see it.
My time in both Argentina and Costa Rica was unlike any experience I have had on the W&L campus. I was able to immerse myself in two entirely different cultures and work environments, with a common language being one of the few similarities between both countries. These opportunities have opened up an entire hemisphere for my post-graduation plans, expanding my focus from domestic jobs to positions throughout South America and Spain. As I begin the formal job hunt in the coming months, I am also confident in my ability to express myself bilingually, and that is a skill that I will carry with me wherever I may go in the world.