Why I owe all that I love to my study of Spanish.
Recently, in my work as a Spanish professor, I found myself speaking with groups of high school students about the shortage of foreign language teachers in our state. As I listed the reasons why they should consider becoming a Spanish teacher, it occurred to me that if you would have told me when I was in high school that I would be a Spanish professor, I would’ve called you a liar. Prior to my second semester of junior year of high school, I wasn’t an especially motivated or talented Spanish student. It was always a class that was fun, but I didn’t take it too seriously. My friends and I would laugh at the “Destinos” telenovela that we watched in one class, although we had parts of the dialogue memorized. I almost quit Spanish after the first day of Spanish 3. It seemed like it would be too hard, but señorita Tess told me and a few others to chill out. “Things would be alright,” she said.
And she was right. An exchange program to Argentina later that year changed everything for me and planted a seed in me that Spanish could be something meaningful in my life. I didn’t participate because of a deep love for the language or culture; that would come much later. I was starting to crave more independence, so I thought a few weeks away on a separate continent, away from my parents, would be a good experience for me. A group of students from Villa Carlos Paz, Córdoba visited us first for a few weeks. Leo stayed at my house. We were quite different, I think, but he was kind and he taught me a lot. Later, we visited them for two weeks. A lot happened during this trip that changed how I viewed the world. I won’t get into all of that now. What I will say about this experience, as far as the language is concerned, is that I was constantly frustrated with my inability to communicate effectively while I was there. Nonetheless, upon my return, it was clear that my Spanish was much better than that of my classmates who didn’t participate in the exchange. I was developing tools that would help me become a lifelong learner of the language.
In college, I studied Spanish, but it wasn’t my major. I thought, “If I major in Spanish, what will I be qualified to do besides teach? I definitely don’t want to teach.” So, I majored in International Business and Marketing, I suppose, because they sounded respectable and potentially profitable. Spanish became my guilty pleasure. Listening to Spanish music and watching telenovelas were things I did in my free time. In my second semester of junior year, I studied in Madrid, Spain, which would, again, be a turning point in my life. I’ll have to give the pertinent details about my study abroad revelations in later posts, but for now, I’ll just say that this trip to Spain made me reprioritize my life. I knew that Spanish would be at the forefront of everything that would be important to me, but it was too late in my studies to add another major.
I worked in the business world for about two years, and I did get to use some Spanish during that time, translating advertisements and catalogs, working with distributors in Latin America, etc. However, the majority of my tasks were quite unchallenging, and the money wasn’t nearly as good as I’d hoped. At this point, I was still unmarried, relatively young, and without crippling debt, so I decided to apply for a master’s program in Spanish. What I would do with that degree was a problem to be solved at a later date. During this time I started to teach Spanish because it was a way for me to pay for my degree. Although it was never easy, teaching was usually fun and frequently rewarding. It would start to feel more natural the more I did it. Soon I would be licensed to teach the language at the secondary level in my home state, but I didn’t feel finished learning.
Applying for a doctorate in Spanish may have sounded kind of crazy to everyone else, but it felt natural to me, even though I occasionally felt like an imposter. It took me a long time to get those advanced degrees, and the experiences I had were priceless. But the Spanish language has done more for me than simply provide me with a job. In fact, if I stop and consider everything that is great in my life, I can trace almost all of it back to my love of the Spanish language. Today, I have a smart and talented wife from Mexico, (mostly) bilingual children, a rewarding career, interesting friends, and opportunities to explore fascinating places. Even my Catholic faith wouldn’t have materialized for me without my admiration for Hispanic cultures. These topics will be explored in subsequent posts.
As I get older and more settled in my career as a professor, I am less focused on publishing peer-reviewed research. Although I enjoy research and still have projects that I’m working on, I realize that it’s at least as rewarding, if not more so, to express myself in a less formal, more creative way, for a larger audience. Moreover, the more research I do, the more I realize that there’s so much more to learn. And there’s no advanced degree that could make me an expert in everything Spanish. For these reasons, I prefer to consider myself, at least on this blog, as a Hispanophile rather than a Hispanist.
So, that’s my confession: I’m a Hispanophile. One doesn’t come across this term very often. The suffix of the word makes it seem as if it’s related to a fetish of some sort. If you’ve found this site, you may be a Hispanophile, too, although you maybe didn’t call yourself one previously. And you really don’t have to be ashamed of it or admit it in the way you would confess to an addiction in a twelve-step group. I hope you join me as I share my past experiences with Spanish and continue my explorations of the Spanish-speaking world. In short, in this blog I wish to express my awe and reverence for Spanish-speaking countries, their people, culture, and language, not criticism. Hispanophiles of the world, unite!
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