With rapid increases in the Latino population in Ohio, opportunities to utilize the Spanish language in everyday life are increasing dramatically. Still, before I studied abroad in Granada, Spain, the only outlet for the practice of Spanish that I was aware of was in the classroom, where my love of Spanish as a major was minimally satisfied by basic grammar lessons and daily quizzes. After four months of studying abroad and being fully immersed in the Hispanic culture, simply being a Spanish major could no longer quench my greater thirst to learn everything I could about the language and the culture. Living in Spain made me realize that culture goes hand‑in‑hand with how people express themselves through body and verbal language. This realization inspired me to seek new outlets for speaking Spanish in Columbus, and I am pleased to say that that I discovered numerous opportunities to help satisfy my passion for both the Spanish language and the culture.
At first it wasn’t easy: when I returned to the United States this past December, I was shocked by the difference I felt in the classroom. Even in the highest level Spanish class, I simply did not feel the everyday challenges I faced in Spain. As winter quarter wore on, I increasingly began to realize how my Spanish conversations of three to four hours per day had dwindled to less than an hour a week. Although this was how it was before going to Spain, the sudden transition from speaking Spanish all the time to only speaking English was a jolt to my psyche. I was no longer trying to find my way through a foreign city by talking to strangers in Spanish; I was back in Columbus, a place I had come to know well in the past three years. It was at this point that I decided that the classroom was no longer enough for me. If I wanted to retain the valuable knowledge that I had learned in Spain, I would have to find a new venue for study.
I began to attend the conversation club that I had gotten emails about since my freshman year and discovered that there were people like me who were not majors, but realized the importance of knowing another language and actually putting it to use. Although the conversation club helped a lot, I still felt I needed more. Seeking a greater challenge, I contacted former Ohio State professor Tonya Tiggett and started teaching Spanish to elementary school children once a week through her company Speak Our Language. With this experience on my résumé, I was able to secure an internship at the Hispanic Chamber of Columbus for the summer and was finally satisfied with how much Spanish I was using.
Now, after a month of interning for the Hispanic Chamber of Columbus, I feel as though I’m really putting my training into practice. I have already translated documents, held conversations by phone and face-to-face — all in Spanish. Additionally, while planning our upcoming event, Sabor de Columbus, I have come to realize how lucky I am to know the language. When sending out information to restaurants attending Sabor de Columbus, I made sure to have letters in both English and Spanish. While making phone calls, I witnessed a marked difference in peoples’ comfort levels when I say, “Yes, I can speak Spanish.” Immediately I can tell how much more confident they are speaking their own language instead of piecing together sentences in English. The relief in their voices makes me wonder how difficult it must be for some of them to communicate everyday situations here in Ohio.
Working as an intern has enabled me to continue my goal of using Spanish as much as possible outside of the classroom and in a business setting. The entire purpose of the chamber is to help build networks and promote community identity, and Hispanic people are an important part of this. My internship has already opened so many doors for me and demonstrated that there are many people in the business world who are searching for Spanish-speakers, giving me hope for a future job where I can use the language I love so much. As I have learned, there are professions for Spanish majors outside of teaching in the classroom and such positions can be equally as rewarding as education.
Thinking back, I realize that a large part of the reason I decided to explore Spanish-speaking opportunities in Columbus was because of my teachers and their constant support and advice. Just as my professors told me all along, teaching is rewarding but it is not the only option; Spanish can be applied to any career because there is a constant need for it. While I will forever be grateful to the TAs and professors at Ohio State, I am more thankful for their encouragement to do things outside of the classroom. Although I am no longer in Spain, my experiences at the Hispanic Chamber of Columbus have helped me realize that one need not be in Spain to be immersed in Hispanic culture. The opportunities are here: one simply has to look to find them.