Sarah Fisher, '13
Sarah Fisher, Spanish Major, '13
1. Why did you study Spanish and Portuguese at Middlebury College?
The main reason I chose to go to Middlebury over other colleges was because their language programs were known as the best. Growing up I had always wanted to be fluent in Spanish and was extremely interested in studying abroad in a Spanish speaking country, but was disappointed by my progress after years of studying the language. After my freshman year I decided to go to Spanish language schools to accelerate my language learning in an immersion environment. It was overwhelming at first, I was not sure my Spanish was good enough to spend an entire summer doing everything in a foreign language. However I soon saw that language schools took my Spanish to a whole new level. By taking the language out of the classroom, out of vocabulary units and grammar tenses, I learned to actually interact in the language in real life. The classes gave me the basics I needed to communicate, while doing everything else in Spanish gave me the context specific vocabulary to do everyday things. I remember getting to my room exhausted one evening after eating three meals, going to two classes, playing soccer, making an art project, and hanging out with friends…all in Spanish! It was hard work, but totally worth it.
One year later I was living and studying in Madrid, Spain. It was the first time I had been to another country (besides Canada) and the first time I had ever lived in a big city. I was able to take on all the challenges life abroad threw at me and have a fantastic time largely due to my experience at language schools and other Spanish classes at Middlebury.
After my semester in Spain I studied abroad for another semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina and fell in love with Latin America. My academic interest in Spanish had always been more focused on Latin America than Spain, but the incredible classes I was able to take at University of Buenos Aires through the Middlebury Study Abroad Program really opened my eyes. I was inspired to take Accelerated Portuguese for Spanish Speakers my senior year to learn Portuguese, which greatly added to my linguistic abilities and overall knowledge of Latin America.
During my senior year I also had the opportunity to write a thesis in Spanish, “Mujeres Creando: Un feminismo boliviano único y revolucionario”, exploring in depth a topic of great academic and personal interest to me. Throughout this writing process I developed academic researching and writing skills in Spanish that will be extremely useful throughout my career. Each and every one of these moments were extremely important in my Spanish and Portuguese learning journeys that I expect to continue throughout my lifetime.
2. What do the Humanities mean to you? Do you consider that the Humanities were an important part of your education at Middlebury?
In my definition the Humanities are the study of how humans interact, how they form the world and the societies within it. Language is an extremely important element of the Humanities because it affects our interactions in many different ways. I would consider myself a humanist, someone who studies the Humanities and is concerned with human welfare in general. I think the language classes I took at Middlebury, as well as my studies in Sociology, Women and Gender Studies, and Psychology, were integral parts of my Humanities education and my overall formation as a human in this world.
3. How has your language/humanities education at Middlebury been relevant to your career and current professional situation?
Through my studies in languages and humanities at Middlebury I gained not only the linguistic abilities but also the life skills to live in and work with other cultures. Since graduating I have worked in the administration of a non-profit in the Dominican Republic and as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Brazil, so my Spanish and Portuguese studies could not be more relevant. On an average day I am expected to switch seamlessly from Portuguese, to English, to Spanish and back, which also requires navigating different cultural contexts. I feel that Middlebury prepared me well for an international career and am excited to see where my next position takes me.
4. What recommendations or advice would you give to current Middlebury students thinking about studying Spanish or Portuguese, or pursuing a major in the Humanities?
My recommendation to anyone considering a major in the Humanities, especially in a language, is to do it! The opportunities that will open up for you are endless, and the personal transformation you will undergo as you learn about the human experience all over the world is incredible. It is challenging to constantly be considering other perspectives, to always feel that there is an enormous world out there and you only know about a fraction of it, but I think that is better than ignorantly living in a bubble. Take advantage of all the different Humanities courses available to learn how each discipline approaches the world. Learn at least one language; Middlebury makes it possible for anyone who is interested enough to become fluent through all the resources available. I can personally vouch for the excellence of the Spanish and Portuguese Department, I started in Spanish 105 nervous and full of self-doubt and graduated speaking Spanish and Portuguese.
5. How has the study of languages and humanities shaped your personal life, and contributed to create the person you are now?
Studying languages and humanities has opened the world to me, and opened my mind to the world. It has been extremely formative not only in shaping my academic and professional interests, but also in shaping my perspective and opinions on almost everything. Through my studies at Middlebury I was able to learn two languages, which opened the door to learning about an entire continent full of endlessly diverse cultures and histories. It has given me opportunities to travel the world; to live, work, study, and immerse myself in other countries. It has contributed to making me a person that wants to continue to meet new people from other cultures, to continue to learn from people from different backgrounds, and to never stop learning from new experiences.
Benjamin Chang, '09
Benjamin Chang, Spanish Language School, '09
Benjamin, why did you study Spanish at Middlebury College?
I decided to study Spanish at Middlebury because after living in Madrid my first two years after college I wanted to truly perfect my language skills and immerse myself in Spanish language and culture. It truly was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and my experience was phenomenal. All of my coursework was top-notch, but several classes during my studies at the Sede Prim in Madrid stood out particularly. One example is Oral Communication, where I was able to synthesize and deepen the usage and understanding of the language skills I had acquired during my undergraduate studies and time spent living in Spain. Another was El Quixote, in which I had the privilege of studying the great work with one of Spain’s most prominent Cervantes scholars. Finally, I will always remember the opportunity I had to work independently with an acclaimed figure in the study 20th Century Spanish literature and culture on a project linking the theatre of playwright Antonio Buero Vallejo with Franco-era Spanish society.
What do the Foreign Languages and Humanities mean to you?
To me, the Humanities are the very core of what defines us as a society. The study of Letters is something that lies so close to our essence as people, as nations, as cultures. How we express ourselves (whether it be through language, art, music, etc) comes to define who we are as a community, and to be knowledgeable about these things - in any language - is to gain access to the heart of human existence. As a language learner this study becomes all the more exciting, as we are given the tools to discover a whole new set of defining cultural features.
How has the study of Languages and Humanities shaped your professional and personal life?
My studies at Middlebury have been of utmost value to me in my professional life. I interact in Spanish with numerous individuals each day, and not a day goes by that I do not draw on my Middlebury education. The study of languages has gone from a personal interest to an academic pursuit to something that veritably defines part of my character. My experience at Middlebury and subsequent Spanish-language journey have allowed me to see the world in a different way, given me access to a culture and a people that I would otherwise be unable to reach in such close proximity, and piqued my interest in expanding the journey to other languages. Spanish for me is not simply a job, but more a lens through which to view the world, and a portal through which I may experience life.
What recommendations or advice would you give to students thinking about studying Spanish or Portuguese, or pursuing a major in the Humanities?
My biggest recommendation to anyone considering studying Spanish would be to commit fully to the challenge. Language learning can seem quite daunting (especially at the beginning of one’s journey), but if you commit yourself to the process, immerse yourself in the various cultural, linguistic, and literary wonders that the Spanish language has to offer, it is a journey that is truly rewarding. What’s more, it’s a reward that can be enjoyed throughout one’s life - as we are never finished learning languages, and thus always able to savor the feeling of learning something new.
More coming soon!