Spanish and Technology: MARIST in the Dominican Republic
The following is the testimonial of Kyle Heubner '17 a double major in International Business and Spanish. Kyle went on Professor Kevin Gaugler's course to the Dominican Republic in June 2014.
No other course offered me greater satisfaction than the trip to the Dominican Republic. While the trip only lasted two weeks, the skills and confidence I gained from collaborating with the computer science students and teaching the Dominican students surpass the amount of learning a regular semester course provides. If you can’t study abroad for a semester, make the trip. If you can or have studied abroad for a semester, make the trip. There is nothing that can help you grow more as a second-language learner than teaching in that language to native speakers.
The premise of the trip seemed comical to me: Fly to a country you’ve never been to, live with students you hardly know, and teach a subject you know little about to native speakers of a foreign language. The task at hand seemed daunting—as I’m sure it seems to students who are considering this trip for the first time— and I was nervous to say the least. To my surprise, it took no time to acclimate myself to the Spanish spoken by the islanders, and I had successfully negotiated for a necklace with a beach vendor within the first two hours of being on Dominican soil. One thing that I found out very quickly was that you don’t have to know every single conjugation of every single verb to be understood; everyone I met was just impressed that I attempted to speak with them in their native tongue.
The first night, all the computer science and Spanish students met up and created a game-plan for the first day. The goal was to have a fully-functioning website for a local school called CADIN, something that came second-nature to the computer science students. I was eased by knowing that I had two computer whizzes at my disposal at all times, and thought that I could always blame them for anything that went wrong in the classroom—for all they knew, I could be complementing them on their skills or outfit choice. The students always got a laugh when I called a techie an “osito polar” and proceeded to tell him “Good job, keep it up”. This language barrier created a jovial atmosphere which led to a fantastic work environment.
By the third day, teaching in Spanish became incredibly easy. All I had to do was look up a few key words for the day and I let my mind take control of my speaking. This is coming from a student whose heart would start racing when Profesora Casey called on him after one of her famous passionate poetry recitations! Even if it seems difficult to string a coherent sentence together in Spanish class, I guarantee you will shock yourself when you have a five-minute conversation with a student in Spanish without even realizing it. While my heart still jumps when Profesora does her thing, I can assure you it is not because I’m afraid I might stutter. Those who have the privilege to be in her class know this feeling intimately.
It still would have been a fantastic trip even if all we did was help CADIN create a website. Dr. Gaugler and Dr. Matheus, being the adventuresome people they are, lined up a series of exciting excursions for us to do after school got out. We snorkeled in crystal-clear water, went zip-lining over a jungle, went cliff jumping, and even surfed some of the tamer waves on the north coast. Our hotel was located right on the beach with more shops and vendors than you could ask for—or, perhaps, were comfortable with.
The trip as a whole was a culmination of years of studying the language and I am proud to say that I can influence the world in a positive way as a result of all the hard work I have put in. I gained audible progress in my Spanish before and after the trip, along with a new edge of confidence in my speaking. I am grateful for this experience, as will be more Spanish students in the summers to come.