My Second Language

Second Prize Red Ribbon
Amelia Espinosa
Second Prize, Spring 2017 Essay Contest

My Second Language

When most people think of learning a new language, the whole concept seems daunting. Learning to speak in a new tongue that essentially seems like gibberish is a hard task, but - although it is challenging - it is also incredibly rewarding. Learning to speak a language that about 400 million other people speak and is the dominant language of a whole continent is an amazing opportunity. Spanish has not only opened up so many possibilities, but also enabled me to experience a completely different world.

The irony that I have a father who speaks fluent Spanish, yet I needed to learn in the language through an academic setting is not lost on me. While my father did not value the skill of speaking Spanish, my mom thought it was very important. That is why I was enrolled in a Spanish immersion elementary school. Initially, I was excited to learn Spanish because it was imperative to communicate with my grandmother who lived in Spain and my grandfather who lived in Cuba. While the concept of conversing with my family that lived oceans away is what drew me to the language, that is not what kept me enthralled with the language. Spanish enabled me to learn about a variety of cultures. While all of the cultures are different, there are a variety of similarities that can be found between them. I have found the environment that Spanish-speaking cultures create is welcoming, comforting, and interesting.

When people learn I speak Spanish, the first thing they mention is how beneficial it will be when I seek employment. That concept always made me feel slightly uncomfortable because it was looking at the language as just a fiscal asset, when in fact it is so much more. My childhood exploration of other countries led to my love of learning about other cultures and passion for traveling. Part of being a responsible citizen of the world and a good traveler meant doing research about the places I was traveling to. During this process, I discovered that there is a lot of inequality, conflict, and exploitation occurring in Latin American countries. While everyone always told me that no career that will pay me to travel the world and help people, I discovered through research that there are opportunities that would allow me to do just that.  

At Gustavus Adolphus College I am majoring in Political Science, International Relations, and Spanish, with a minor in Peace Studies. Eventually, I would like to work for the Department of State as a Foreign Service officer or for an International NGO. In order to achieve my dreams, it is first necessary to complete my education. Education serves as the foundation to all of my endeavors. There have been various instances in which the privileged attempted to help countries and caused more harm than good because they did not look at important factors such as history, current systems, and culture. In order to help in situations in other countries, I must first be educated on their history from a variety of perspectives. I must understand their social constructs and existing systems. I must understand the basis for their public opinion and thus their culture. Spanish allows me to look at these intersectional systems that exist in a comprehensive way. In this way, I see my education at Gustavus as a necessary step to implementing beneficial systems that lead to improvement in these countries.

Spanish has enabled me to learn so much more than just a language. It taught me more about other countries, cultures, and - most important - it taught me more about myself. Regardless of where life leads me, learning another language will always be something I appreciate. I will encourage embracing diverse concepts and ideas because it opens one's view of the world. In my life, the situations where I chose to do something that wasn’t necessarily easy always was worth it.