We’re asking students, recent grads, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…
Meet Peter—a current Study Abroad Advisor learning Spanish & Russian. Originally from California, Peter holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations at California State University, Chico, where he minored in Latin American Studies and International Studies.
1. We’d love to hear about your earliest exposure to languages and cultures at home or with family as a young person…
It sounds cliché to say that it began before I could talk, but in fact that’s 100% true as I’m not entirely just American: my family is originally from the UK and Canada. So, as I like to say, I was born American and raised Euro-Canadian.
My parents also played a pivotal role in exposing me to world languages and cultures by hosting college students studying abroad in my region. This influenced other academic and professional decisions I have made over the course of my life.
While I had a lot of different exposures to different cultures with the exchange students, in practice, my first world language experience began in sports. While I wasn’t the best in American football and baseball, I did enjoy participating in the Japanese martial art Aikido. I remember learning to count to ten for drills and exercises, plus needing to know the techniques in Japanese so I wouldn’t get hit in the head!
2. Did you experience any challenges learning languages in school? What steps or strategies did you use to overcome them, and what advice or thoughts would you like to share with someone currently doing so?
Every day, as a matter of fact. Despite being raised in an English-speaking home and country, I struggled immensely with English because I am dyslexic. I almost consider English to be a foreign language. After being diagnosed with dyslexia in the 1st grade, I worked tirelessly during the school year and summer, and had a tutor who specialized in dyslexia. I credit the early 2000’s computer games and learning strategies such as color coding for learning how to decode the English language.
Once I finally “caught up” to my peers in English, I was ready and even excited for my next challenge of learning Spanish (which still challenges me to this day after almost 10 years).
My biggest piece of advice to the dyslexics and other neurodivergents who are passionate about travel and world cultures, but are deterred about learning yet another language is, if you think it will be impossible, it will be. Will it be challenging and frustrating? Yes, but so is English and you’ve made it this far already. Why not challenge yourself just a tiny bit more?
3. What motivated or inspired you to choose your undergraduate major? Did you participate in campus programs outside of the traditional classroom that contributed to your exploration of other cultures? (We hear you participated in Model United Nations!)
In high school, I actually wanted to become a police officer because I wanted to help and protect my community; I even participated in my city’s Police Explorer program. At the same time, I was also very passionate about local and world politics. I realized my senior year that I wanted a career with all of these passions and goals in mind, with a more global focus. This led me to study International Relations at California State University (CSU), Chico.
Yes I did! During my sophomore year, I was part of the Model United Nations team. I had the opportunity to participate in the Northwestern Model United Nations (NWMUN) Conference in Seattle representing the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and the National Model United Nations (NMUN) Conference in New York City representing the United States of America. In preparation for the conferences, my team and I studied world geography, key alliances, and buzzwords—all of which contributed to my exploration of world cultures. The NMUN conference was special because it brought together students from top universities around the world with the similar goal of creating a more peaceful and safer international community. At this conference, my cross-cultural communication, diplomatic, and problem-solving skills were put to the test as we created resolutions addressing conflicts such as xenophobia and the rights of Indigenous peoples.
As a university student, Peter studied abroad in Bilbao, Spain:
Check out his “Top 3” Most Memorable Study Abroad Highlights!
→ Just as my family hosted study abroad students, I knew I wanted to do a home-stay during my study abroad experience via the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC). In just one semester, I developed a very close relationship with my host mother, her brother, and sister. By living with a host family, I was able to be fully integrated in the Basque culture. My Spanish language skills grew an incredible amount during this time and I even learned the basics of the local Basque language, Euskara!
→ To practice my Spanish outside of the classroom, I would often strike up conversations with locals, oftentimes resulting in unique experiences. While on a train to a small village outside of Bilbao, called Gernika, I asked a group of locals in Spanish if I was going the right direction for the Gernika-Lumo “Last Monday” festival. This conversation led to me meeting their friend that evening, who happened to be a local Basque politician. We all had dinner and drinks together and discussed local, national and world politics in Spanish and broken English.
→ My last highlight has to be my first solo-trip to Prague, Czech Republic, and Munich, Germany. It was during this experience I fell in love with travel and in particular, solo-travel. It was exhilarating traveling 100% on my own without any help or guidance. I experienced staying in hostels for the first time, where I met people from all around the world from all walks of life. Each person I met seemed to have an interesting story of why they were exploring the city. While this isn’t a sunshine of a “highlight,” it was very impactful when I ventured to Dachau concentration camp outside of Munich.
4. Can you share with us about your experiences teaching English—any certifications earned and the formats/places you taught? What most surprised you about teaching (and/or what did you most enjoy)?
After graduating from University I knew I wanted to return to Bilbao and continue traveling.
I saved up some money during my first job out of college and signed up for a Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certificate with the International TEFL Academy. It worked out great, because it was a 3-month online course, had an assistant teaching requirement which adequately prepared me for teaching, and I was able to complete it while working a full-time job. I also was able to do an additional course specifically for teaching English for business.
I taught all levels, ages, and classroom setups (one-to-one, small groups, and even online). I had a few different jobs at after-school English academies doing English exam prep around Bilbao, and I also taught students in China via my computer!
The most surprising part of teaching was how advanced some of my students were at such a young age. I surprised myself when I realized how much I loved working with my youngest students aged from 3 to 6 years old.
5. What would you say is the greatest misconception Americans have about language learning?
That the end goal has to be at an advanced level or to be “fluent.” It goes a long way when you even attempt to communicate with someone who isn’t a native English speaker in their own language. Even if you are a beginner, you can combine your verbal and non-verbal communication to have a conversation.
BONUS QUESTION: Complete this thought: “Learning another language means…”
Learning another language means doing your part to help better foster cross-cultural communication within society, leading to better governance and business, and ultimately achieving more peace and security in your local community and world.
Check out our Connect with Spanish and Study Abroad Programs pages to explore language scholarships, university programs, testimonials, and more! And, as always, visit @LangConnectsFdn on social media to share your story with us.