Ask Away: 5 Questions for a Gilman Scholar Learning Spanish and Neuroscience
We’re asking students, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…
Meet Edo—a Johns Hopkins Neuroscience and Spanish double major & Gilman Scholar recently home from Salamanca, Spain.
1. You spent the summer in the Hopkins Neuroscience program in Salamanca, Spain. Where did your journey learning Spanish begin, and how did it lead you to study abroad?
My interest in the Spanish culture began during my senior year in high school when I took an AP Language and Culture class. At that point, I had already taken 4+ years of Spanish courses, but none of them focused on the history and culture of Latin America and Spain like this one did. Throughout the course, I was exposed to various surrealist paintings such as those painted by Salvador Dali. I was also exposed to emotionally captivating letters by Frida Kahlo.
By the end of the course, not only would I say I was somewhat proficient in speaking Spanish, but I also gained a new found understanding of the Spanish culture itself. This is what sparked my interest further and I wanted to learn more.
My goal was to become fluent in Spanish and knowledgeable of the culture just enough to have an engaging conversation with someone from Spain. This is what ultimately led me to declare a second major in Spanish while at JHU.
During my freshman year at JHU, I was able to enroll in upper level Spanish courses which gave me a great head start towards my goal. During this same year, I heard about the Study Abroad program and thought it would be a good option for me. I knew I could only learn so much about the Spanish language from listening to lectures and practicing with classmates and was excited about the thought of being able to immerse myself within a foreign culture and apply the many years of knowledge into the real-world.
Fast-forward a year later, with the help of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, I was able to become a participant in the University of Connecticut’s Neuroscience in Salamanca, Spain Study Abroad program.
2. During your time in Salamanca, you crafted an Instagram page @PersonasDeSalamanca. Could you tell us a little more about the project? What was your biggest takeaway?
At first, the project was very difficult for me. Talking to a stranger in a foreign language was much harder than I thought. I actually froze up during my first attempt at a getting an interview. I walked up to an elderly lady and struggled to form a sentence after all of those years taking Spanish classes. A part of this could have been due to me being nervous as well.
I began to doubt my Spanish speaking capabilities. I thought to myself, “How will I ask people questions about Salamanca for the next five weeks if I can’t even bring myself to speak it clearly enough for people to understand?” I decided to begin with a disclaimer. The next person I talked to was a girl my age and I quickly started our conversation with “Perdóname, mi español no es muy bueno” (Forgive me, my Spanish is not very good). To my surprise, she laughed and reassured me that my Spanish was good and was happy to see that I was even making the effort to speak her language.
She became my first interview and although she didn’t know it, she also gave me the courage I needed to continue with the project. After this, I was able to interview nine other people and feature them on my @personasdesalamanca Instagram page.
I expected to jump off the plane and start interviewing people with ease, however, I learned that it takes time to become accustomed to a new culture and language.
I had to push myself beyond my comfort zone and realized that it was important to be patient with myself.
The best part was that many people were quick to help and support me in my attempt at learning their culture and language. All I had to do was build up enough confidence to put myself out there and interact with them.
Overall, I am happy I took the opportunity to challenge myself and put my Spanish speaking skills to the test. Moreover, I was able get a greater sense of Salamanca through the various people who were kind enough to speak with me. The Instagram page is truly a testament to the warm, welcoming, easygoing, and joyful personas de Salamanca.
3. Do you have any funny stories about using your Spanish in Salamanca?
I went to a café one morning because I was craving hot chocolate. I ordered “chocolate caliente” which directly translates “hot chocolate.”
When it came, I picked up the mug to take a small sip. However, the hot chocolate seemed a bit thick to me. This is when I realized that what I received was not my typical milky American hot chocolate. Instead, my waiter brought me pure hot chocolate. By that I mean, I was served a cup full of melted chocolate to drink. I guess the meaning was lost in translation, but I must say it was delicious chocolate.
(Fun fact: The waiter who served me is the 7th person featured on the account!)
4. What advice do you have for other students in STEM who want to study abroad?
As a STEM majors we are taught to be very focused on our studies. This is great when it comes to learning new scientific theories and getting good grades. However, with this tunnel-like focus on the sciences, we are quick to forget the other non-STEM related things we can do in college.
Although going to another country won’t help with your Organic Chemistry or Biology course, it expands your world view and allows you to think in a different way. With that said, there are many study abroad programs that enable you to take STEM courses for credit or even do research in a foreign lab.
5. Does Spanish have a role in your future career plans?
Definitely! After college, I plan to take a gap year and during this year I plan to do a program that allows me to travel to a Spanish speaking country so that I can continue improving my Spanish capabilities.
As a STEM major at a research-based institution, I have learned that science is a result of global collaboration. Therefore, whatever field I choose to go into, my Spanish skills will help me excel.
BONUS QUESTION: Lightning round—favorite food you discovered in Salamanca, Spain?
Chocolate con churros!
Are you interested in Spanish scholarships, university programs, or student testimonials? Visit our Lead with Spanish page to learn more. Or maybe you’re considering a federal grant or fellowship, like the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program? Check out our Grants & Scholarships page for information on available opportunities.
And as always, don’t forget to share your language learning story @LeadWLanguages on social media!