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Ask Away: 5 Questions for a Future Nurse with her Sights on Community Empowerment


We’re asking students, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…

Meet Karina—a  Nursing Major at Rutgers University–Camden and Heritage Speaker of Spanish. 

"Ask Away: 5 Questions" banner with portrait of Karina

1. What were your first experiences with Spanish?

I grew up in a Mexican and Colombian household so I grew up speaking Spanish. I used to love writing stories in Spanish and I learned how to write at a young age.

2. What made you continue to learn the language in high school? Do recall a favorite moment from your high school Spanish class?

Both of my parents migrated from their respective countries and they encouraged me to speak and write constantly so I wouldn’t lose the language in the school system. I also wanted to take AP Spanish in high school so I would have credits coming into college.

My favorite moment from Spanish class in high school was when our class had to discuss real life events and voiced our opinion solely in Spanish. Another favorite moment was when I had to translate a poster for the ESL students so the principal could understand what they were trying to portray.

3. How have you strengthened your Spanish skills while at college? What advice would you give to students who are considering learning a language (or who might be struggling with a language)—any tips?

I strengthened my Spanish skills in college when I had the opportunity to translate official documents for those families who qualified for the Holiday Assistance at the Kroc Center. Our class also made recipe cards, pamphlets and infomercials about healthy eating for the Food Pantry at the Kroc Center. We also talked about statistics by the CDC, discussed about them, and wrote down important information in Spanish.

The tip I would give is that you have to see the end goal: Just knowing that you’ll be fluent and will have more opportunities for meeting people, and also having an increase in salary.

4. We hear a lot of myths, like “Everybody speaks English” or “Only language majors need to study languages”: Why is it important for young people to know a language other than English?

It’s essential. Having another language to back up on can open up an array of possibilities.

You never know when someone will need your help.

One day I was volunteering at Joseph’s House (a shelter in Camden) and this man just lost everything that day. He was scared and didn’t know what to do. I told him a place where they provide jobs and a place where he could get help. This man didn’t speak any English. I was the only one in that shelter that could of helped him out, and I did.

The fact that there is a need in translators should be an eyeopener. Many people are missing out on assistance just because they don’t speak the language.

5. Have you ever hesitated to use your language skills with others?

Yes, especially in middle school. That’s when I really lost a lot of my Spanish and I felt judged for being a native speaker.

I felt stigmatized and put aside because of the fact that I was Latina. But then as I grew older, I realized that I needed to start practicing again and that it was actually beneficial; not only for me but for other people too who needed help.

BONUS QUESTION: Your favorite word in Spanish and why?

My favorite word is Bon Bon because it’s a fun word to say and it means marshmallow! It’s also used as a pet name!

What’s next for Karina?

“I want to be a Spanish translator in the hospital as well as being a nurse. I want to be able to translate for my patients whenever they need it. Minority populations are on the rise and staff needs to be prepared and ready at any given moment.”

As an aspiring air force nurse or nurse anesthetist, and translator, Karina has seen first-hand the impact that her language skills can have in providing care and assistance to those without English proficiency.

Check out the Lead with Spanish page for resources on college programs, scholarship opportunities, student testimonials, and more; then visit our Heritage Learners page for information on the benefits of maintaining your home language.

You can also learn more about the Rutgers–Camden “Spanish for Health Professions” course and related internship experiences at these links, as well as about the value of language skills in closing the gap on access to quality medical care for those in the U.S. who speak languages other than English.

And, as always, don’t forget to share your language learning story @LeadWLanguages on social media!