No Language Requirement, No Problem: Finding My Passion for Spanish

By: 
Carly Walsh
Class of: 
2019

Foreign Language; to some, the mere mention of the phrase can send shudders down spines. For native English speakers like myself born in a unilingual household, attempting any foreign language usually begins in a classroom, and is usually completed due to a language requirement. For me, my decision to enroll in Introductory Spanish in my first year of middle school came as more of a lesser-of-two-evils decision, having only two options to choose from: Spanish or French. This mentality of Spanish class as a requirement flowed into my four years of high school, where repetitive lessons on basic vocabulary and verb conjugation began to feel more like endless memorization rather than meaningful conversation or written word. 

Given my tainted past with the Spanish language, I entered St. Lawrence University with no interest to continue my Spanish courses, and planned my first semester without a language in sight.  However, when it came time to schedule courses for the following semester, I found myself with three classes of interest and a blank space in my academic calendar surrounding class number four  Racking my brain and the course calendar for any possible leads, my eyes darted past the Estudios Hispánicos section, and without a second thought, my mouse selected Intro to Spanish, then Register.  Despite previous introductory knowledge, my unwillingness to take the online placement exam matched with a lack of enthusiasm for the course left me with few other options. Arriving to my first class two months later, I kept my expectations low, ready to be handed yet another sheet of verb endings or basic sentence structure.  However, as soon as class began, my enthusiastic professor first had us go around the room and introduce ourselves. All 20 bashful students managed a response, most visibly grateful it did not have to be given in Spanish. Following the introductions and summary of the syllabus, my professor explained his love of the Spanish language and culture, describing his upbringing in Peru with zeal. Well this is different, I thought to myself.  Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I began to look forward to the class, motivated by my growing desire to contribute to each discussion and absorb pieces of Spanish culture along the way. More than that, the course felt more like a hobby than a requirement - upon realizing that I wanted to achieve fluency in the language, the class became a platform for just that. 

Following the spring semester, I continued with my Spanish studies, equally enjoying each additional course knowing that I was improving my speech as well as beginning to understand exactly why my first professor spoke so highly of his native country of Peru. My Spanish courses became an escape, where myself and my peers all shared the collective skill of a secondary language. While communicating with fluency was and still is a work in progress, in each class I felt myself improve, which further heightened my drive to continue in my efforts. When I arrived at the second semester of my sophomore year and had to decide on a major, my decision was a no-brainer. While I came in knowing that I wanted to study Economics, I didn’t want to polarize my studies into a strictly quantitative perspective. Therefore, despite delayed interest, I was able to combine Economics with Spanish into an International Economics major.  This January, I will be arriving in Madrid for my spring semester abroad at the Colegio Mayor Isabel, where I am able to take both economics and Spanish courses in an entirely immersive environment. 

Not only did my decision to drop into an introductory class help me decide on a major and an off-campus study program, but now allows me to bring together two entirely different schools of thought, and provide me with a unique outlook on the world that I would never be able to see otherwise. 

So, a word of advice: whether it’s a modern language you started in high school or a math elective that catches your eye during course registration, take it - it could be the start of an incredible journey.