Just about every time I speak to someone in Spanish, they are impressed by my accent. They usually ask “De donde eres?” (Where are you from?) When I say “I’m from California,” they seem surprised and comment, “Hablas muy bien el espanol,” (You speak Spanish very well). Attending university in Spain my junior year made me a confident Spanish-speaker with a strong bond to native Spanish-speakers and Spanish-speaking cultures. From where I stand today that is the greatest impact my experience abroad has made on my life.
My love for the Spanish language has formed my life since returning from my year in Granada, Spain. I engage Spanish speakers at every opportunity. Earlier this year at Catholic Charities Immigration Law Clinic, I counseled a Colombian man seeking asylum. At this same clinic I interviewed a Salvadoran man regarding employment discrimination. A few weeks ago while volunteering with Community Tax Aid of Boston, I spoke to a Guatemalan couple about their income tax return; and just yesterday a Puerto Rican man helped me at a hardware store. Each of these people lit up when I spoke with them in Spanish, and I felt so happy to converse in their native language. The reason I am able to relate easily to people in Spanish is because I spoke Spanish every day of my year in Granada. I listened intently to people’s words so that I could make sense of the meaning of those words. I looked folks in the eye and asked them follow-up questions to make sure I understood. This is what I do today as a law student representing Spanish-speaking clients. I look them in the eye; I listen to their words, and I ask follow-up questions to clarify their concerns. The act of conversing in Spanish is delightful to me. In fact, it is consistently something that I seek out to enrich my life.
Since starting law school almost two years ago, I have questioned my decision many times. “Why did I want to go to law school?” I asked myself last Tuesday as I stepped into the lobby of my apartment building, where a man was vacuuming. I smiled at him and was reminded of the Salvadoran gentleman I had helped a few weeks earlier at Catholic Charities, a man who had been fired from his job because of an INS error with his work authorization. In that moment, I was reminded of the responsibilities of my educational privileges, including my year at the University of Granada. Studying abroad helped me to master the Spanish language, a skill which has come to shape my life choices. When I feel completely lost, I remember my love of travel, culture, and language. Studying abroad gave me the opportunity to develop that passion, a passion that continues to comfort and guide me today.