Why I want to learn Spanish and go to Costa Rica
Kenneth W. Powers III, student
I am not a man who has had an easy time with school. That is not to say I am unintelligent, I just never had my priorities in the right order until relatively recently. My story, or rather this chapter of it, began seven years ago in Vermont, at Champlain College. I had been a business student there for about an hour when I realized it just wasn’t the right path for me. I switched to Liberal Arts and proceeded to flounder for the next several years. I dropped out after my sophomore year and took some time to evaluate my options. I worked in restaurants and temp jobs, just trying to make enough for rent and to feed myself, quickly realizing that this kind of life was not for me. I enrolled in classes at the Community College of Vermont, where I met with more success than during my days at Champlain, but still not enough. You see, while I had realized that I didn’t want to be a businessman, and that I wanted a college education, I still had no idea what I actually wanted to do with my life. So I dropped out again after a full academic year and decided to take a job in Yellowstone National Park for the summer. Going to Yellowstone changed my life, and if not for that trip, I would not be sitting here typing this right now.
Yellowstone made me realize how much I loved to travel, and rekindled my adoration for the written word. As far as I’m concerned, the two best ways to learn about oneself are to travel and to read. Obviously knowledge is gained by reading and traveling, but I’m not talking about general knowledge. The common thread throughout my travels has always been the attempt to understand myself better, and understanding others is the first step to understanding yourself. To read a book is to put yourself into the mind of the author, and to imagine the landscape and characters is nothing if not traveling within the confines of your own mind. Traveling makes you reevaluate yourself, because when you just up and leave your comfort zone, by yourself, you discover how you actually cope with difficult situations and different personalities. Your safety net, whether family or friends, disappears, and you either build up a new one or hope you don’t fall.
My experience in Yellowstone led me to take another job in Park City, Utah, at Deer Valley ski resort. One of my favorite things about being there was the number of international employees they had. I met so many amazing people! I dated a pretty young woman from Argentina, partied with Peruvians, cooked with Colombians, skied with Chileans and Venezuelans, and all the while was envious of the fact that they were all bilingual. All I could think was: “Why aren’t I?” The answer was: no reason. There is not one good reason for me to speak only English. As stated above, I adore the written word. I want to be able to explore Spanish-language literature as it was originally written. I feel unique among many of my fellow Spanish students, in that my goal is to achieve fluency. I’m not just in class to fulfill credits.
Practice makes perfect, though, and I need practice. If I’m going to speak fluently then immersion is the next logical step. To spend a month in Costa Rica, and speak Spanish as much as humanly possible would provide unquantifiable benefit to my Spanish speaking ability. Living with a host family would allow me to gain cultural enrichment and language improvement that just can’t be found in a classroom. I have always been a hands-on person. The best way for me to learn is to just get in there and start trying. I certainly would not be in a position to do this if not for the years of classroom Spanish education, but I am at a point in my learning that requires a bit more if I can hope to get to the next step. Confidence in my speech and the ability to quickly call Spanish to mind is something that requires practice more than anything else, and there’s no substitute for listening to and speaking with a native speaker. Spanish classes tend to teach a more formal Spanish than is generally spoken and your vocabulary tends to identify you as a non-native speaker as quickly as your accent. Learning more colloquial Spanish would enable me to speak more naturally.
Realistically, this is the only kind of study abroad program I can do right now. My professor told me about it at the beginning of the semester, and I haven’t been able to get the idea out of my head since. I have often lamented the fact that I missed my opportunity to study abroad. I have an apartment for which the rent is considerable, and bills on top of that, so I can’t really just up and leave for an entire semester. When I heard about the Costa Rica program, I realized what an amazing opportunity it would be for me to do something that I had thought impossible. To be able to spend a month there, in Spanish intensive classes, living with a host family, learning more about Latin culture in general, and Costa Rica itself is a unique opportunity I cannot let myself miss. I can get time off work without losing my job, settle my bills, get an “apartment sitter” and go take an amazing opportunity to push myself far closer to fluency than would be possible here, while learning about a culture and region of which I know very little. While I have had a unique chance to learn about many of the diverse cultures of Central and South America, I know relatively little about Costa Rica.
The world gets smaller and smaller every day. I stay up to date on the comings and goings of nearly all of my South American friends with Facebook, and I can text them using a $.99 app on my phone. The USA isn’t the center of the world any more than the earth is the center of the solar system, and pretending otherwise benefits no one. I want to see a world where we’re all just people. Our differences can bring us together rather than driving us apart, but only if we accept and cherish them. We no longer live in a world where one language is enough. There was a time when reaching the other side of the globe was a life threatening endeavor. Now you can sleep the whole way there, and nearly every corner of the planet and every person on it are interconnected through the internet. How many of them speak English? How much knowledge do I lose out on by not speaking their language? It is impossible to say, but I can say this for sure: learning Spanish, for me at least, is the first step on the way to changing that, and opening myself up to literally an entire world of knowledge and experience.