Ricardo Barrios graduated in Oberlin in 2012. He majored in East Asian Studies and Politics, and he speaks Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese. Ricardo spent a year teaching English to graduate students and studying Chinese as a Shansi Fellow at Beijing Normal University. He is now working for Shansi as a Returned Fellow.
Coming from San Juan, Puerto Rico, the first language I used in Oberlin was naturally Spanish.
Pretty much from the outset, I used my own native mastery of Spanish to tutor both beginning and advanced level students in everything from writing to speaking. Throughout my time in Oberlin, I did everything from translation, to proof-reading, to conversation sessions with all kinds of students and with all kinds of faculty. It was a genuinely touching experience where I got to meet so many interesting people, both students and faculty alike, without actually being in the Department or having taken a single course there. Senior year, I also participated in the wonderful SITES Program, where I was even able to share with local elementary school children my love for my language on a weekly basis. Regardless of how, helping others learn Spanish was definitely a considerable part of my Oberlin experience.
If teaching Spanish was a considerable part of my college life, though, Chinese–and later Japanese–almost consumed it entirely. As an East Asian Studies major since freshman year, one of my academic concentrations in Oberlin was Mandarin Chinese. I think, one of my most memorable and moving successes in Oberlin was translating for one of my professors as he gave a talk on traditional Chinese calligraphy, fully in Chinese, to a completely non-Chinese speaking audience. Looking back on my language training, and the four years of struggle I had weathered to get there (I had no Chinese language training prior to Oberlin), that was definitely a huge moment for me that showed me just how far I was able to reach, and in so little time, in terms of foreign languages.