In Search of the Language of Cervantes

Discuss an academic pursued in high school and how you applied its knowledge. How does this relate to U of C?

The primary focus throughout my high school career has been the mastery of the Spanish language. For the past four of my six years in Spanish class, it has been my privilege to study the tongue of Cervantes under the fine tutelage of Mrs. Maria Elena Campos, an experienced reader of Hispanic literature. Her teaching, which influenced me during travels to Spain and Costa Rica, now leads me to seek my next destination on the road to bilingual excellence, the University of Chicago. I will never forget when this woman with bright red hair, leathery skin the color of peanut butter, and thick-heeled shoes walked through the door of Room 226. She began by saying that she was Marialena Campos, our Spanish teacher for the next year. “My class will not be easy,” she warned, “and that is because many of the best things come from hard work and endurance.” Consequentially, I read with zeal in Mrs. Campos’s class, a place where we have endlessly discussed Spanish literature. Our teacher never tires of using short, personal insights and tonal suggestiveness to arouse interest in the language, having guided us through several great Hispanic works, from Benito Perez Galdos’s best novels, “Dona Perfecta” (“Perfect Woman”) and “Marianela”, to the world-renowned epic “El Cid”, including countless other works which we have delved into and interpreted. Incidentally, much of the grammar and vocabulary I learned was readily applicable once living with a family in the Basque region in Spain. Cultural acclimation meant leaving behind comfortable familiarities: being forced by means of environment to daily use Spanish; trying to replicate the unusual Basque accent; and replacing a greeting handshake with a hug. I overcame the minor difficulties involved in observing Spanish culture with persistence and inquiry. This past April, I again found myself in the familiar throes of unfamiliarity, living with a hospitable family in the mountains of sunny Costa Rica. In the process of learning the names of new faces, things, and places, I crossed cavernous cultural barriers. For instance, the town where we lived, Santa Maria de Dota, was peopled with several houses that might be considered small by American standards, and not all residents had the everyday luxuries of TV’s, cars, and drinking water straight from the tap that I had so often taken for granted. Through observation, I had previously learned from Mrs. Campos that keeping an audience interested requires the use of an engaging voice appropriate to the subject matter being discussed. Borne from this harrowing experience was a refined usage of Spanish which better expressed myself through accuracy and tonal variation. Living among the “ticos,” as Costa Ricans are affectionately called, not only improved me as a bilingual, but as a human being. My interest was piqued with U of C’s available study abroad programs. In addition, when I visited University of Chicago at the Sept. 19 Open House, Dean O’Neill seemed to exhibit a style of professionalism reminiscent of Mrs. Campos. He varied his voice while speaking in an anecdotal manner, quite an impressive representative of the well-intentioned demeanor of the educators he so fervently advocated. When he said that at U of C, “learning is encouraged,” I began to say to myself, perhaps this place has that amazing something I had searched for in Spain and Costa Rica–a place where learning and embracing Spanish could continue.

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