Charis Stanek is a second year majoring in psychology at Oberlin College.
Describe overall what you did for Winter Term.
For Winter Term, I went to El Salvador with a group from Oberlin called OSES. OSES stands for Oberlin in Solidarity with El Salvador and strives to form a strong connection between Oberlin and a community in El Salvador called Santa Marta. We all stayed with host families and worked in either the clinic, a greenhouse, a kindergarten, or radio in the community. In the evenings, we would often hear from members of the community who were largely affected from the war, leaders of organizations in the community, our family members, and others about either personal stories about what their families went through during the war, projects and goals that these organizations have, problems that the community faces today, and environmental and social politics within the community or from other countri8s, such as the United States, that inhibit change and improvement in these areas.
In what ways did your Spanish vocabulary change after your Winter Term?
My Spanish vocabulary changed during Winter Term because I lived in a community that only spoke Spanish and I made a conscious effort everyday to practice and perfect my Spanish. I was exposed to many new different kinds of words in Spanish that I had not learned in any classes that I had previously taken because they were words often centered around a specific vocabulary of war, politics, health, etc. that are not used on a daily basis and thus are not taught as frequently in high school Spanish classes.
What is the importance or relevance of learning Spanish for you?
Learning Spanish is important to me because I think I realized over Winter Term that the best way to inspire solidarity is to build personal relationships with the people that you are intending to support. I found that the language barrier inhibited me from developing stronger relationships with the people that I met in El Salvador and truly understanding the ways in which they would like to be supported. I think part of the “white savior complex” is making assumptions about what other people want and need based on your own values, opinions, experiences, etc. that may not align with what people in different areas of the world want. I think communication is key to solidarity and this is why I want to work to continuously improve my Spanish.
Compare learning Spanish in a classroom setting versus learning in a home, doing service work, or having conversations with people whose first language is Spanish.
In a classroom setting, I would assume that one is more likely to practice their Spanish more frequently than if they were simply at home and had no one making them accountable for the energy and correctness of the work that they were doing. Doing service work and being in an area where you are more obligated to consistently speak Spanish would be a great way to pick up on more things that you might have missed and a classroom setting and would also be easier to pick up because you would gain more comfort and confidence in consistent practice. Talking to native speakers is, I think, the best way to pick up Spanish because ultimately native speakers are the people that you are wanting to communicate with and you are able to hear common phrases, cultural differences in the language, patterns, and even slang, that you would not pick up on my speaking only to other students from the United States in Spanish.
What are your hopes and dreams for continuing to learn Spanish and incorporating the language into your future?
My hopes for continuing to learn Spanish is that I will gain fluency in the language and will be more prepared to travel, build relationships with native Spanish speakers, and to listen to stories directly from people speaking in Spanish. I also would love to incorporate Spanish in my career path (potentially psychotherapy) and be able to help, support, and listen to not only people who speak English, but also people who speak Spanish. In addition, I would love to remain in contact with my host family from El Salvador and be able to continue to get to know them and support them through the language.
What are some phrases or words you would have liked to know before Winter Term?
entonces, en vez de, extrañar, desde, arriba, abajo, bien hecho, que bonito, hormigas, araña, escorpión, cobija, peligroso, duro, invernadero, crecer, regar, semillas, suelo, pared