Finding Myself in the Midst of the Unfamiliar - My Family Travels

I am passionate about languages. English. Spanish. Chinese. Italian. Greek. To be able to communicate with others from different cultures and backgrounds inspires me. In my philosophy, a language not yet learned is a stone unfortunately left unturned. The pursuit of mastering languages drives me. An opportunity this summer showed me a first-hand example of how following my passion was both fun and contributed to my growth as an individual. 

I bounced up and nearly hit the ceiling as the plane’s tires crashed upon the sunrise-lit runway. My high school companions and I had finally landed in Madrid, Spain for an intensive two-week language and cultural university program. Our flight had started in the morning, and with the time change, to our dismay, it was morning all over again!
After unpacking at the dormitory during the longest day ever, we set out for our first night on the town, eager to celebrate our arrival in Madrid. Ironically, everyone (except me) wanted Italian food instead of Spanish food; however, where was an Italian restaurant? No one knew. Everyone began to stare at me for an answer, hopeful that I would ask someone, as my Spanish ability was good.
Coincidentally, an elderly couple was walking their dog ten feet away. I politely asked, “Perdóname, pues, ¿vosotros podéis decirme dónde está el restaurante italiano más cercano? Creo que mi grupo y yo nos hemos perdido.” The old man, surprised by seeing an American talking to him in Spanish at midnight, showed the classic Fred Flintstone look of bewilderment, vibrating his head with a single blink, revealing eyes as large as dinner plates. However, he immediately answered. “¡Vale! ¡Cómo no, amigo! Caminad por dos cuadras en esta calle, y gracias por hablar perfectamente.” His enthusiastic compliment thrilled me! To hear such a statement from a native speaker confirmed that I was able to apply language in a real-life situation, boosting my confidence tremendously. One night, however, was not enough to gauge my full ability.
The next day, I entered my first college class at the University and I noticed something besides the incredible heat in the room: everyone in my class was either a college student from a different part of the world or a full-time American high school Spanish teacher. I had been placed in the highest-level course (500-level) that was offered! At first, the class seemed a little intimidating, as the sweat beading up on my forehead confirmed. However, as I rose and answered the fast-talking professor’s first question perfectly, I solidified my intuition from the previous night: I belong in languages.
The remainder of my time in Madrid passed incredibly smooth, as I ordered food for my nervous classmates in restaurants, led my group on a self-organized expedition to Toledo, conversed with the stern dormitory nuns fluidly and fluently, and even met two Madrileño teenagers, enjoying many hours of non-stop Spanish, conversing with them as easily as I would with a best friend in English.
I can still picture the old man’s delighted countenance from our brief encounter and how that experience invigorated and elevated me. After returning from Spain, I knew that my passion for languages was real and that I wanted to continue and expand on them in college and beyond.

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