Thursday, December 10, 2009

Student Reflection

by Danielle McBride

Photos: The first picture is of myself (farthest right) and two friends in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay looking out unto the Río de la Plata in mid-November 2008. The second picture is of myself looking out through the forest onto Las Cataratas del Iguazú in early December 2008.

I’m Danielle McBride and I am a senior in International Studies with a focus on Latin America and human rights.

My experiences with Spanish have been impacting, and sometime life changing. I am from a small town in northern Illinois. Though we are roughly 9500 people, we have a rather significant Spanish-speaking population; something all the other towns around us lack, making us a bit different than the average small town in Illinois. Growing up, I always had friends and classmates that had to learn English as their second language, but I knew nothing of other languages. As I became older, I became more intrigued by the diversity in my town, more specifically the Latino culture. In high school, I took three years of Spanish, and found I had a more natural talent for the language than most of my fellow classmates. As I found myself at the University of Illinois, I knew I wanted to make my focus on improving my Spanish skills and learning more about other cultures, once again, more specifically Latin American cultures. Hence, I chose to be an International Studies major. I found after one or two courses in Spanish here at the university that I really had a passion for learning and speaking Spanish. Because of this, I started working as an ESL teacher’s aide for the elementary school district in my hometown over every break (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.). I still continue to work with the district’s ESL program every break. I also started to explore using Spanish outside of school and work. Moving past the nervousness one sometimes feels when speaking a second language, I began using Spanish more and more with my friends who spoke Spanish as a first language. I now use solely Spanish when around the families of these friends.

Though all these matters have shaped my experiences with Spanish, studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the fall of 2008, without a doubt, affected my life the most. While I was in Argentina I lived with a woman named Ana María. Ana María was a retired professor of literature and a writer of historical fiction that focused on women in Argentine history. Needless to say, I learned quite a bit from Ana María and had the opportunity to meet many interesting people through her. I even attended a “birthday party” for Jorge Luis Borges where I was able to meet his wife María Kodama! Attending classes at La Universidad de Buenos Aires and making Argentine friends truly opened my eyes to a world more beautiful and exciting than I could have ever imagined. Whether it was sipping mate with friends or simply strolling through the various ferias on weekends looking for trinkets to give to friends and family, Argentina stole my heart. I loved my experience so much with the country and its people, I hope to move back for a few years after graduation.

Through this project, my more obvious goal is to improve my Spanish. Since returning from Argentina, I know my Spanish speaking has become a bit rusty, and working at Central High School will definitely allow me an avenue to speak more often. Other than my self-improvement, I hope to learn more about the lives of the Spanish-speaking students at Central. In the past when I have worked with ESL children, I have never had consistent contact with the same group of individuals, thus not allowing me to truly understand their lives and circumstances. However, since I will be working with the same set of individuals at Central, I hope to learn about their pasts, presents, and futures. I think gaining more insight into their lives will allow me to gain a deeper understanding of what it is like to be them and what has brought them to Champaign.

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