Destiny isn’t really my thing. I’m not religious, and I don’t look to a higher power for my life’s grand plan. But every once in a while, I can’t help but take a step back and observe how different experiences and decisions have connected the dots during my first 23+ years on this crazy planet.
In my hometown, students begin foreign language study in middle school and are given the option of French or Spanish. At age 12, I chose Spanish, partially because it seemed more practical and partially because it’s what my older brother had chosen four years earlier.
In seventh grade, my first year as a Spanish student, my experienced yet energetic teacher, Mrs. Noyes, asked us to choose Spanish names, and I selected Esperanza—hope. Spanish came easily to me, and I did well in the subject in middle and high school, but I was never particularly excited about it. When senior year rolled around, I had the choice of taking AP (Advanced Placement) Spanish or Spanish 5, a culture-based class with little grammar. My lack of passion for the language and already AP-heavy schedule encouraged me to choose the latter.
The following summer, in preparation for my impending entrance as a freshman Communication Studies major (my, how things change) at Northwestern University, I had to take an online placement test to determine my progress toward the “equivalent of two years of university-level language classes”-requirement. I vividly remember sitting in my family room with my laptop, watching a Red Sox game and absent-mindedly choosing between ser and estar and conjugating verbs in various tenses. I had studied Spanish for six years, but I was placed in second-year university Spanish. Oops. I probably could’ve passed out of the requirement completely if I had put in a little effort.
But thank goodness I didn’t.
Having an easy breezy Spanish 121 class in my schedule for all three quarters of freshman year was a welcome sigh of relief among all of the other stressors of the first year of college. During that time, I started to hear buzz around campus about the magical experience known as “study abroad.” So it was only then, after finishing my requirement (and then promptly changing to a different major with no language requirement at all), that I continued taking Spanish classes voluntarily. I almost transferred to a different university, where credit transfer red tape most certainly would have prompted me to stop studying the language altogether. Instead, however, I stayed at Northwestern and started connecting with some excellent native professors and dreaming about a semester spent in another country on the other side of the world.
On September 1, 2010, that dream came true, as I hugged my parents goodbye and got on my first ever international flight, landing in Sevilla hours later, jetlagged, overheated, and confused as hell as to why the heavily-accented syllables that my host family spoke to me sounded nothing like the Spanish I had studied for the previous eight years. However, a little serendipity and a lot of linguistic trial and error changed everything quickly, as I was lucky to make some wonderful Spanish friends and connect intimately with locals.
Had it not been for any of those twists and turns along the way, starting at age 12, I probably wouldn’t be writing right now in a blog about my life in Madrid. This journey could have been different if I had chosen to study French rather than Spanish. Or if I had taken AP Spanish and/or paid more attention while taking the placement exam and thus passed out of the language requirement at Northwestern altogether. Or if I had stopped studying it at NU after freshman year. Or if circumstances were different and I had a less magnificent study abroad experience.
But no. The path I followed gave me the desire and confidence to return to Spain to work as an English teacher for not one, but now two years.
Where will these little connected dots take me next? Only time will tell.