with a grain of rye
The Journey of Becoming Bilingual
“Hola, Bienvenidos,” were the first words of greeting as I stepped off the plane for my three week study as an exchange student in Costa Rica—my heart raced. Not only would I open my eyes to a new culture, but I would also get the chance to put my two years of Spanish into use. The realization of how important a second language can be became eminently apparent, as I was given the opportunity to teach elementary students in their English language classes. Although they saw me as an English- speaking Rock Star, I was totally amazed at their English-speaking abilities. Our ability to communicate, both in Spanish and English, overcame boundaries and forged understanding and friendships we would never have otherwise experienced.
While attending Colegio de La Salle during the summer, I was able to take educational courses with other students and then explore the beautiful scenery of Costa Rica with my host family during the weekends. The students at La Salle also had the opportunity of visiting the United States during their summer vacation, which is our winter break. The boys are sent to Christian Brothers High School to stay with host families, while the girls attended St. Agnes Academy. As a member of both the foreign exchange abroad and the cultural exchange back in Memphis, I have completed the full experience of the cultural immersion.
Reflecting on the trip itself also gave me insight into the Hispanic culture, because the experience I had at Colegio de La Salle, opened my eyes to the differences in the educational systems in other schools as compared to my own. One of the many differences I saw in the culture was the way food was preserved in the stores. One example of a cultural difference is that milk is kept on the shelf in a box as compared to the
refrigerator and in a gallon sized jug at many local shops or neighborhood grocery stores. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the outdoor food markets, which are opened in the streets, because many locals buy raw vegetables straight from farmers there and the whole process is overwhelmingly beautiful as I learned many different types of new fruits and vegetables. I was also given the experience to drink from a coconut down the street, as many people were drinking from them, and it was so delicious and fresh. Another highlight of the culture was that there are knife-throwers on the corners of the streets juggling huge knives, which at first was terrifying, but soon grew into a unique admiration for the skill needed to juggle such perilous tools. Besides the knife-throwers, motorcycles, called “motos” as a nickname there, occupied the streets in large quantities and seemed to be the fastest form of transportation. All of these unique street attributes gave me the overall wonderful experience of the Costa Rican cultural and furthered my insight into the Hispanic culture of Central America.
While in Costa Rica, I acquired newfound friends or pen-pals that have taught me new things that I could not learn in the classroom such as, “tico”—a slang word to call someone from Costa Rica, and “Pura Vida”—a slang phrase that can be used to answer about any question in Costa Rica because of its translation to a “pure life.” Through this mind opening and life changing event, I became actively involved in the Spanish Club at St. Agnes Academy, as Spanish Club President and ambassador for this exciting cultural immersion to take place back in Memphis.
From hosting International Fiestas, where students bring in different Spanish dishes from Gallo Pinto to Tres Leche, to organizing salsa dancing lessons, I can truly bear witness that the Spanish cultural and influence has left an impression on me I wish to share with others. My impact on the school community
expanded when I became the student leader of the Cultural Exchange Committee at St. Agnes for the Costa Rican exchange to Memphis. By assisting in the Spanish Luncheons and helping with the organization of the specialized field trips of this exchange program, I felt again united with a different part of the world. Not only was I able to get the school community more aware of the Spanish culture, but I have also been able to offer opportunities for immersion to students who cannot afford or make the trip as an exchange student to Costa Rica.
Not only did my four years of Spanish language instruction aid me, but my on-the- job experience of learning from co- workers, who only speak Spanish, at Stevi B’s Pizzeria in Bartlett armed me with new slang such as "Qué honda?" and nicknames for friends, such as "Chanmacho." The new words and phrases learned, along with the ability to use my Spanish once again out of the classroom, further invigorated my desire and passion to continue learning and embracing other cultures and languages in the world. The importance of learning languages other than our own inspired me to soak up the Costa Rican language and culture.From Spanish dishes and salsa dancing to the trip to Costa Rica, I have been able to discover my passion for foreign languages and different cultures, but I have also been able encourage those around me to become more involved. By embracing this cultural experience, my mind has not only become more open to new possibilities but I hope it can also demonstrate how there is a world full off different people and cultures, making the world even bigger than imagined. Learning Spanish has completely altered my life for the better, and has helped me reach fluency goals I never thought I would be able to accomplish with just the few short years of Spanish classes I have taken. Spanish culture and language has found a way to seep into all aspects of
my life. Not only does Spanish culture and language ignite a fiery desire within me to reach the goal of fluency, but it also has sparked a passion I never knew I had before. My passion for encouraging those to learn a foreign language and become more aware of other countries does not only open doors and opportunities for new insight into a new culture and a different language, but also encompasses the majority of the aspects needed to immerse oneself in another culture. My character has forever been changed because of my cultural immersion experience in Costa Rica because I have been able to not only discover my individuality and speak a second language, but I have also been able to help those around me discover their own sense of self.
High School Emerging Writer's Selection Opportunity with 4Memphis Magazine
I am Gabe Rye, from Memphis, TN. I started writing journal entries because I was inspired at a young age to pursue writing to share my thoughts and feelings on the changing world around us. Attitude is everything, and changing your attitude and mentality is a journey I have been taking since the start of my writing. I desire to become a better contributing member of society, as to also better my faith journey through this social platform.