A new group of honors students will blog this semester about their experiences in the "Spanish in the Community," It is always fascinating to me to see how so many students can have similar experiences yet take away very different things because of their previous knowledge and experiences as well as the support the classroom discussions give to their reflective processes. I hope that you will enjoy reading this semester's cohort of student bloggers and even learn something from them.
by Charlotte Piwowar
Before going abroad, my Spanish left a lot to be desired. I had taken three years in high school, as well as classes my first three semesters here at Illinois. As an International Studies major I was required to reach a “proficient” level, but, feeling like I wasn’t progressing much, I decided to devote my time to other classes required for my major and minor after completing the necessary language coursework. A full year then went by in the time between that last Spanish class and when I finally went to study abroad for the spring semester of my junior year. I had never really had much experience with Spanish outside the classroom, and so hearing native speakers babbling away when I first arrived in Quito, Ecuador back in January—even at the relatively slow speed at which Ecuadorians speak compared to Spanish speakers in other parts of the world—was an overload. Even after one short week, though, I noticed an improvement. Taking classes in Spanish, living with an Ecuadorian family, and just conducting basic, everyday tasks in Spanish was tricky at first, but each day I learned new words, understood grammar points more clearly, and was able to speak more rapidly. Slowly but surely, my confidence and abilities were improving. I was understanding more, being understood more effortlessly, and making Ecuadorian friends. At the same time though, I could feel my time in this Spanish-speaking world also slowly but surely slipping away from me as each day gone by meant one day closer to returning to the U.S.
I had anticipated that my desire to keep speaking, hearing, learning, and practicing Spanish would be huge upon returning to the U.S. after those five months. So when registration rolled around in April, like many other students in the class, I signed up for Spanish in the Community to keep my skills from going rusty. It was pretty difficult to settle on just one group from all of the interesting choices to work with, but for the community aspect of this class I signed up to work this semester at Champaign Central High School—and I could not be more excited! I have spent time with high school students in the past as a writing tutor and have discovered that working with this age group is something I really enjoy. So to be able to combine that with the opportunity to practice Spanish (even if I will not be speaking Spanish all of the time) is something that I am really looking forward to.
Learning a new language has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I feel like a whole new world of culture and opportunities has been opened to me—both abroad and here in the United States. However, it is a process that is really never complete. Even in English, there are always new words and phrases to learn. Being in Ecuador for five months obviously helped immensely in improving my skills, but they are still very far from perfect. I do continue to practice Spanish on my own by reading books and listening to the news, but my main goal now is to practice listening and speaking to keep my confidence up so as to continue to learn and improve (especially with slang!). I’m not sure what I’ll be doing once I graduate in May, but I would love to use my Spanish skills—and I know that I’ll be going back to travel through more of Latin America one day—and so to be able to continue to understand others and use Spanish practically is my main motive for taking this course right now. Even though it will only be a few hours each week, every little bit helps, and I’m sure that it will a very fun and enjoyable experience…and who knows what more it could lead to. Can’t wait to begin!