Mi Viaje en Español

~Post by: Austin Vander Wel, SCS Class of 2010

The summer before entering my junior year at SCS, I was given the opportunity to attend a short-term mission trip in Honduras, where for the first time in my life I was linguistically disadvantaged. Despite knowing only a few words in Spanish, I made Honduran friends who encouraged me to study it upon returning to the States. This challenge was the initial call of a journey that has opened doors and taught me priceless lessons.

In high school, Spanish was one of the classes I really enjoyed. In class I felt free to open my mind and learn new ways of thinking. It gave me an appreciation for other cultures and showed that people are capable of learning important lessons in life through linguistic expression. As I nurtured this love for Spanish and the cultures that speak it, these interests naturally grew into a Spanish major at college. There, Latino friends were eager to help me improve my conversational Spanish and had the patience to do so. I found that they opened my eyes with new perspective and personal stories, and soon I felt comfortable expressing myself in my second language. Feelings of anxiety and nervousness were lessening and I was able to enjoy those around me in a deeper way.

Linguistic abilities grow exponentially when in another country and having a Spanish major offered opportunities to learn abroad. Living in Costa Rica and Chile, I learned how deeply we are shaped by the cultures we are born into. I found that living abroad offered priceless lessons and shaped me deeply as a person.

Studying Spanish has without a doubt been a spiritual journey for me as well as linguistic one. I have been a witness to this in many ways, but one way in particular is that I now have a better understanding of what it means to live as a foreigner. Learning another language has helped me understand the difficulties that immigrants face—Spanish-speaking immigrants as well as my own grandparents—and has helped me understand the message of Christ in the cross-cultural setting in which he lived while on earth. I have also learned biblical lessons, like being a cheerful giver, through Latinos who I’ve met through travels. Finally, having met people from a plethora of backgrounds, cultures, and colors through studying abroad, I have been positively challenged to be less judgmental and open to perspectives other than my own. I have no doubt that I would be a very different person today had it not been for Señora Soto, Latino friends in the university, and the beautiful people I met while traveling.

Some advice I would have for students studying Spanish is that learning a language is much more than grammar and vocabulary, and learning verb forms without loving the people who speak the language is meaningless. 1 Corinthians 13:1 states, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” That sharp ringing of a cymbal that pierces the eardrum is eternally unpleasant, so go out there, meet some amazing people, and remember that we learn languages to care for those around us.