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“Peux-j’aller à… el baño? No… Me Permite ir…à la toilette? No…” My head spun, my bladder throbbed and my voice stuttered in some incomprehensible, newly invented language. Regretting all the water I drank at morning swim practice, I attempted to separate the French and Spanish vying for control of my thoughts and words. Like trying to make one puzzle from two separate boxes, studying both French and Spanish can lead to confusing and frustrating sentences. However, the rewards of two years in French and four years in Spanish–learning new points of view, understanding and communicating with other cultures, and developing a global attitude–benefit both others and me.
Before taking foreign languages, I struggled to find Nicaragua or Haiti on a map, yet after learning French and Spanish I could not only find them, but I knew about their cultures. In Spanish, I watched videos showing Mexican workers struggle to provide for their families in Mexico, travel north and then struggle again to adjust economically and socially. I listened to an immigrant from Nicaragua speak about the Somoza, Sandinistas and American involvement from a personal and touching point of view. In French, I acted out boarding a train in France and then learned the importance of, and reasons for, mass public transportation in France and Europe. Furthermore, as I learned more about these cultures, I also spoke more proficiently in their languages. Piece by piece the puzzle came together, revealing the beautiful picture of foreign languages and cultures.
Soon this new, global picture altered my views on American society and politics. After learning about European public transportation, I reconsidered my negative view of my own city’s bus system; now I use it as a viable transportation option. After learning about America in Nicaragua, I wondered if Iraqis faced similar hardships and resentment towards America. Politically, I developed a more global attitude—is it ok for America to make decisions that benefit us yet harm the world?
I now realize that I can share and use this beautiful picture to interact with and help others. In the early fall, while I was working as a cashier at a local supermarket, a young Hispanic mother came through my line and attempted to ask me a question in very broken English. After recognizing that she spoke Spanish, I asked her in Spanish what she was looking for. As relief flooded her face, she explained to me that she simply needed “leche y queso”, milk and cheese. Now, I am enrolled for a spring course in Mandarin at a local community college—one more set of puzzle pieces, yet one more picture to enjoy. Next fall, I hope to continue this growth, to add to my view and understanding of the world in order to better others and myself at Macalester College.
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