September 15, 2009 - 12:00am
My first trip to Valparaíso, Chile was scary. I was going for a two-month work exchange with the YMCA. I was a travel coordinator for a high school exchange program, and the program needed some improvements. The only problem was that I didn't speak a word of Spanish.
I struggled at first, started taking Spanish classes and benefited from good friendships with kind people. While these friendships helped me communicate during my two months abroad, people mostly smiled at my childish mistakes and dealt with my butchering of their language.
Prior to enrolling for my master's degree at the Monterey Institute, I took the Summer Intensive Language Program (SILP) in Spanish. I spent the summer with 12 other students trying our best to master a language and combining our in-class experiences with activities in Spanish outside of the classroom. It was a fun summer that took my Spanish to the next level.
During a break from school, I went back to the YMCA in Chile to volunteer for a month and visit old friends. You cannot imagine the big smile on my face when my old friends remarked that I now spoke like an adult! I was proud and was able to interact in a whole new way during my month in Chile. Rather than just forming passing travel friendships, I have deep relationships that I will cherish my whole life. I was a productive volunteer and have since been able to take my Spanish to a professional level while working for PACT in Ecuador. I am grateful for my experience at SILP and glad that I no longer speak Spanish like a child.
Submitted by Lynn McDonald, SILP 2006, MPA 2008