When I first started my education at the University of Pittsburgh, I had not intended on taking language classes, let alone travel to two foreign countries where that language is spoken to completely immerse myself in it. As a native Korean and English speaker, I had recognized the value of knowing another language since I was young, often being delighted at exploring how the phonology of Korean versus the phonology of English seemed to allow great cultural differences between the two, allow me to express ideas that I could not in English, and access two completely different worlds.
Through learning Spanish and embracing a language with sounds that roll off my tongue completely differently from English and Korean has allowed me to access different parts of Spanish-speaking cultures that I would not have otherwise. Although I did learn a lot of grammatical structure in the classroom, I felt that I learned the most outside of my classroom when I traveled abroad for two, one-week service trips in Honduras and a summer study abroad program in Ecuador.
I feel that my Spanish-speaking immersion experience was best fully captured during my time in Ecuador. I learned almost immediately that in order to learn language, one must not be afraid to make mistakes and enjoy the learning process. When I stepped outside of my comfort zone and demonstrated my willingness to master the Spanish language, my friends in Ecuador were completely willing to help me without laughing at my mistakes—in fact, pretty soon, we were conversing in Spanish about daily life, Ecuadorian culture, current challenges (political, environmental, and medical) in the Napo region, favorite food, or playfully joking while playing rounds of soccer games. I, grateful for their help in teaching me Spanish, in return, taught English to those who wanted to learn.
My experience in Ecuador was also really unique because I had the opportunity to improve my Spanish-speaking skills through my independent research project. During this project, I interviewed eight indigenous Kichwa women in the Napo region in Spanish for about an hour each, regarding their experiences with access to mental health care resources as domestic violence victims or health care providers for that population.
Today, I believe that understanding and speaking another language is extremely crucial to not just communicating with another individual who speaks another language than you do, but to access their community, their livelihood, culture, and potentially, even become their friend. I hope to continue to grow my Spanish speaking skills so that I can converse with Spanish speaking patients in the future as a physician and help them feel comfortable navigating our complex US healthcare system.
Spanish 0001: Elementary Spanish 1
Spanish 0002: Elementary Spanish 2
Spanish 0003: Intermediate Spanish 3
Spanish 0004: Intermediate Spanish 4