Ibrahim Alamin, Spanish Summer School

1. Why did you study Spanish at the Middlebury College Summer School? 

I wanted to study Spanish at Middlebury because of their stellar reputation for language instruction. Taking the language pledge and remaining true to it really helped me take my speaking abilities to the next level. I learned so much during my summer on campus, wow, I can’t even put it into words. It really prepared me for continuing my studies for the MA in Madrid.

2. What do the Humanities mean to you? 

The humanities and liberal arts to me means learning how to learn and my language study experience at Middlebury was a great example of this. Learning a language is much more than reading books and repeating, its a personal journey to discover what works best for you. I studied Spanish at Middlebury but used the methods and techniques used there to learn Portuguese and even computer programming languages.

3. How has your language education at Middlebury been relevant to your career and current professional situation? 

I currently work in technology as a project manager. At the surface it my seem that my MA from Middlebury in Spanish is completely unrelated to my work in this field but that is absolutely untrue. As I mentioned before, my understanding of how to learn new concepts is strongly rooted in my language education. My understanding of the intricacies of language has helped me become great at communication and those are skills that not only translate to any profession but will set you far beyond the competition

4. What recommendations or advice would you give to current Middlebury students thinking about studying Spanish or Portuguese? 

I would definitely recommend that you go for it! Make your education as diverse as possible. For the undergrads, don’t just major in a humanity and stay in your department, consider taking courses in sciences such as chemistry and/and computer science as well. Go beyond just the basics needed to graduate and take some of the higher level classes. This will make a truly well rounded individual that can tackle ANYTHING.

5. How has the study of languages and humanities shaped your personal life, and contributed to create the person you are now? 

There is just no way you can learn another language and not be changed. You aren’t just learning words, you’re learning to think, feel and process things in a new culture, from a new perspective. That is a powerful change. I really learned how to step out of my comfort zone at Middlebury. This has had a profound impact on my life. It takes going out of your comfort zone to really start doing the things you want to do. 

Jefferson Bates, Environmental Studies and Spanish, '09

1. Why did you study Spanish at Middlebury College?

I knew I wanted to study abroad while at Middlebury. To paraphrase Mark Twain, I knew travel would expand my horizons, and it certainly did. Attending the Middlebury School in Chile was certainly my most valuable experience. I had just come off of another study abroad semester without a language pledge, which hadn’t done too much for my language skills. Spending the semester in Temuco, with a host family, speaking only Spanish was invaluable. When I returned to Santiago after the semester a store clerk asked me “Are you from the South? You have a funny accent.” To be able to smile and say, “yes I am” was a great feeling.

2. What do the Humanities mean to you?

To me the humanities are the study of the human experience. I think this field of study is valuable for two reasons. First and foremost, it develops emotional intelligence. To be able to step back from one’s own experience and examine it from an academic perspective enables us to better understand and choose our emotions. For example, religion is typically a contentious topic. Taking Hispanic Religious Painting helped me understand the origins of Christianity and how it has influenced culture. I can navigate religious discussions with a little more ease given my understanding. Second, studying the humanities helped me develop a robust intellectual curiosity, which has been indispensable in my work after Middlebury. 

3. How has your education at Middlebury been relevant to your career and current professional situation?

Studying language has helped me be successful in my professional and personal life on a number of different levels. The intellectual curiosity developed through studying the humanities has been the foundation for any and all success I have had in business. The desire and ability to synthesize information from disparate sources has enabled me to make smart business decisions for my clients and for the companies I have worked for. I have also used my language skills more directly, having conducted research in Latin America for a number of clients. Despite not having taken Portuguese at Middlebury, my study of Spanish helped me learn the basics and communicate with Brazilians with great success. Finally, my study of Spanish at Middlebury has enriched my subsequent educational experiences. After having studied Spanish at Middlebury, I was able to pick up on basic Swedish, which was great for a class I took in Stockholm. Additionally, I will be visiting a business school in Mexico City in a few months for a case competition, and I expect my Spanish will enable me to collaborate with my team much better than I otherwise could.

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?

A major in the humanities will not only enrich you on a personal level, it will give you a competitive edge in your search for a career post-graduation. Enlightened companies do not hire for specific skills or experience, as skills can be taught and experience gained. Enlightened companies hire for immutable characteristics such as the ability to write well, the ability to collaborate, and intellectual curiosity. Studying the humanities will imbue these core characteristics that really differentiate a job candidate. Additionally, studying a language and studying abroad positions you well to work abroad, which is increasingly a requirement for leadership positions in global companies.

5. How has the study of languages and humanities shaped your personal life, and contributed to create the person you are now?

First, studying languages has fostered my love of travel. Traveling has enabled me to be (almost) as comfortable sleeping above a tea shop in the Himalayas as I am in my own bed. It has enabled me to draw on a number of different perspectives and worldviews when solving a problem. Second, it has enabled me to examine my own life in the context of the greater human experience. This helps me better understand how I feel and has made me a much happier person in general. Third, studying the humanities helped me develop my intellectual curiosity, which has been the cornerstone of all of my professional success.

Seavron Banus, Spanish & Geography, '11

1. Why did you study Spanish at Middlebury College?

I studied Spanish partly because I enjoyed the variety of material the classes covered. One of the best things about language is that it is a lens into other cultures, countries, types of interaction, music, etc. The other main reason is that Middlebury has such a great study abroad program, both in terms of options as well as funding / aid for each student’s experience.           

There are many moments that were important to me during my time of study at Middlebury, however the most influential was by far my time studying abroad in La Serena, Chile. After my first semester there I had such freeing experience living on my own, interacting entirely in Spanish, and adjusting to a new culture and set of friends that I changed part of my major. There is something about going to a completely new place, alone and in a new language / culture that is like taking the rug right out from underneath your own feet. It pushed me to flip myself over and really build myself up from the ground again in a way that was amazing for both my Spanish skills and personal development.

2. What do the Humanities mean to you? What is your personal definition of this area of study?

Humanities to me is about the study of different cultures, ways of being, art, thought, and development. It represents a type of thought and analysis that connects empirical or more scientific thought with the interactive, cultural, or subconscious nature and influences of the world. The humanities were definitely an important a part of my education at Middlebury, in fact I would even say it goes back to high school for me. The classes in many ways provided a type of thinking / exploring how I enjoy interacting with reality and academic pursuits. I would not necessarily consider myself a humanist if we are using the more traditional definition. However, I definitely do enjoy studying the humanities and participating in many disciplines that fall under the umbrella of humanities. To this day a style of thought I associate with humanities is a part of my work and personal life.

3. How has your language/humanities education at Middlebury been relevant to your career and current professional situation?

Hands down, the abilities that I have to analyze information efficiently, think creatively, and communicate in multiple languages are the keys to my professional life. These three skills which were developed at Middlebury are crucial for success in the professional world. Although I never realized it while studying Spanish at Middlebury, my fluency would turn out to be one of my most marketable talents in the processional world. I was hired specifically for my Spanish language skills to a consulting firm in DC, Kaiser Associates. It was a special recruiting round in the spring of my senior year—where they were looking for bi-lingual consultants.

In my first year I got to work on projects in Mexico, Colombia, & Peru.  At first my involvement was just from a research and analysis perspective on the projects—but now almost 3 years later I am leading my own project where we travel to Chile & Peru each month to help a startup Telecom company design and run its cell tower operations. Without the Spanish and people skills that I developed studying abroad and at Middlebury it would be impossible for me to connect and build client relationships so successfully. These connections in both the US and SA are some of the best / most important parts of my job.

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? 

If you have the drive and sense of adventure it takes to really trust that your friendships and opportunities will still be there when you get back, go study abroad for the full year. Do it in a country that doesn’t speak English and, if you have to, go where none of your friends are going. Change your iPod, iPhone, Facebook, email, etc. to Spanish /Portuguese and see where the experience takes you. After a few weeks you will be amazed at the skills you develop. Do whatever it takes to make sure when you come back you are thinking, speaking, and dreaming in Spanish / Portuguese.

Being able to speak another language will open doors for you that you can’t see for yourself, it creates opportunities in wonderful ways. Whether you want to go into the business world, education, art, or otherwise learning to communicate exceptionally—regardless of language—will drive your success.

5. How has the study of languages and humanities shaped your personal life, and contributed to create the person you are now? This is an open question, so please answer it any way you prefer.

It has been part of the reason I have such a drive for international travel and exploration of other parts of the world. Some of the most formative and positive habits and hobbies I picked up in my early twenties came from my year abroad. Studying and speaking Spanish has been a part of my life for 10 years and it is something I plan to do for the rest of my life. Latin America and the friendships / relationships I have made there are a great part of the life I have built for myself post-college.


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, 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!

Department of Luso-Hispanic Studies

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