Spanish and I have maintained a strict love-hate relationship for the past six years; unfortunately, our constant bickering and habitual arguments have left little room for love.
As a begrudging, mediocre Spanish student, I have always taken the time to focus on how the language has always been a second choice, a pathway that I have either stumbled upon or has been chosen for me. This dissatisfaction has always translated into a respectful but subtle disdain for the country and its language: scoffing at the nation in an ever-present series of history classes while frowning at its irregular verbs and inconvenient gramatical structure. My initial forays into its study were marred by disappointment and dissatisfaction, something I held tight to and never let go.
Our relationship is one of complacency and convenience; divorce is expensive, and moving into separate rooms is much easier than the arduous task of moving into separate apartments. It is not exciting, but it is comfortable and secure. Any and all passion remains reserved for my first love, German.
As an elementary school student, an accidental series of events resulted in my family hosting a high-school German exchange student in our home for a year. His stories about his country and anecdotes in German left me intrigued and eager to study the language.
As a middle school student, an unfortunate combination of scheduling conflicts removed the opportunity to study German and left me trapped between French, Spanish, and Latin. Two years of disagreeable French lessons and a consideration of Latin as a dead language eliminated those options and left me with Spanish. Spanish, the language that everyone and their brother was taking; therefore, not different or exciting enough and leaving my anti-social-self immediately repulsed. I entered my first class with crossed arms and a closed mind and refused to study any of the material placed in front of me. The next three years passed in the same way, and the more I understood about the culture the more I disliked its loud and boisterous nature.
As a high school student inspired by the importance of my GPA in the fourth year, I attempted to take the final course seriously–efforts that ended disastrously and left me even more disillusioned and dead set against the language than when I started. European and world history courses swept the culturally-rich country off to the side in favor of its stronger, more militaristic neighbors and stuck to portraying Spain as a passive participant in world affairs. Suspicions “confirmed,” I too swept the nation off to the side and felt glad to be rid of it for the final part of my high school career.
A trip to Germany to visit our exchange student and his family solidified my mental dichotomy: German was the language that I wanted to study, while Spanish was the language that I had been forced to study. While many find it off-putting, the abrupt tones of brisk German hold a calming rhythm, pleasant to my ears. The Spanish dialect, whose rolling, lyrical timbre many find soothing, sounded abrasive–a serrated serenade of sordid disquietude. The more reserved German culture and its traditional stoicism provided a welcome change from the discomforting openness and emotionalism of Spanish society. The Nordic nation simply felt right, and I enjoyed every moment of a month that was over much too soon.
As a freshman student in college I was finally given the opportunity to take German classes for the next two years, which further confirmed my unfounded prejudices. Commensurate to an afterthought I had added a Spanish course to my schedule, an act of drudgery born of habit and the dormant fear of loosing my lackluster abilities. I dreaded every arduous moment spent studying Spanish, memorizing an endless litany of vocabulary words and irregular verb tenses, and used my simultaneous German courses as an enjoyable distraction from the toil. Each matriculated phrase marked a small victory and proud celebration.
The final fight was an impassioned brawl exemplary of the end of any heated romance as sensibility overcame the sensuous: I would study abroad in Valladolid, Spain for the spring 2016 academic semester.
Contrary to copious student testimonies, studying abroad has not changed my life. With less than two weeks in the semester, it is safe to say that this will not change and I will not return to the United States with a newfound sense of independence and individualism. I do not feel more prepared or enlightened about my future as a first-semester senior, and I have not gained a fresh outlook on my calling in life. My internal purpose has not been rejuvenated nor reinvigorated. Study abroad can do all of these things, and for many students, it has and will continue to do so.
While study abroad has not changed my life, in four short months it has reversed six years of resentment and cynicism. It has shown me the beauty of the Spanish language and the rich meanings of its words that could never be fully divined or appreciated from within the confines of a textbook. Lifeless on the page, their heated cadences spring forth in cascading crescendos and diminuendos from those around you. Once barren, the words now mean something: bocadillos hold the memory of afternoon excursions and cenas the memories of laughter and togetherness. Mi vida is a simple, expository statement until it is used by a husband in reference to his wife or a mother to her children.
Though arguably factual, to spurn the role of Spain throughout history as a secondary, supporting nation is to ignore the resilient strength of its people and their capacity for pained endurance. They are tenacious and proud of their capacity for perseverance, and in the face of past and future hardships, will continue to persist. Though worn to the bone with economic turmoil and political corruption, the Spanish spirit progresses.
Its festivals must be experienced in person, as pictures and eloquent descriptions cannot do justice to the feeling of pure excitement and absolute energy. They cannot match the exuberance of the crowds and their insatiable appetite for celebration. As the United States clings to the last cultural vestiges of its holidays, Spain remains a steadfast observer of its heritage.
Three out of my four courses for next semester will be Spanish courses, and I could not be happier about it. If I had remained the torpid and obstinate student and stayed in the classroom, I never would have had the privilege of understanding the crucial aspects of the language and cultural I had been mentally maltreating for so many years. Spanish, nor any language, is not stagnant, and to take a stationary approach to its study is to barely scratch the surface of its essence and do it a grand injustice.
Language and international studies students: you are required to go, and so you will go, but keep an open mind when you do. For the rest of you? Given the chance, go. Skeptical? So was I, so go buy your suitcase and start packing.