When I began at the University of Michigan in the Fall of 2015, I was more or less directionless. Because of my high school’s rigorous Spanish program, I tested out of enough Spanish classes to average just over one per semester over the course of my four years and graduate with a Spanish major. At the end of my freshman year, though, a friend recommended that I take the introductory Spanish linguistics course, which introduced me to a genre of Spanish academia different from what I had been exposed to up to that point.
Under the direction of Assistant Professor Lorenzo García-Amaya and, later, Associate Professor Nicholas Henriksen, my interest in linguistics — and from a Spanish perspective, rather than my native English — flourished. Following that first semester of Spanish linguistics, fall of my sophomore year, Prof. García-Amaya mentored me through an independent study at the end of which I made a natural transition into the Speech Production Lab. From then until now, the lab, which is co-headed by Professors Henriksen and García-Amaya, has been a fantastic home for me both academically and generally.
I began working on the project that would eventually lead to my undergraduate honors thesis in the summer after my sophomore year, transcribing the Spanish-language interviews of Afrikaans-Spanish bilinguals who reside in the Chubut province of Argentina. As I transcribed the interviews, I was exposed to a rich, sometimes challenging culture and confronted with the concept of a dying language, a people generations removed from their homeland, South Africa, and its more modernized reality.
While my own work within the lab tackled more strictly linguistic concerns, my learning about the culture and, on some level, the inseparability of linguistics from history and anthropology motivated me to uncover greater truths that this relatively small community of speakers could provide. As my role in the lab began to grow, I continued taking classes focused on the intricacies of translation and interpretation, phonetics, and second language acquisition. When my senior year rolled around, I felt confident in pursuing an honors thesis. With the help of Professors Henriksen and García-Amaya, I settled on the topic of cross-language influence between Afrikaans and Spanish, specifically in filled pauses (e.g. “um”, “uh”).
Though I was enrolled in fewer credits than ever before, senior year proved arduous. At the end of it all, though, it’s easy to see how my thesis work catalyzed my growth as both a scholar and as an individual. Hours of careful interview listening, acting as both mentor and mentee, and engaging in sometimes convoluted theoretical discussions drove me toward producing a final product of which I was (and am) authentically proud. Beyond the crowning, tangible product of my years of work, the thesis, lies a sprawling vastness of intangible rewards. These consist of everything from the little stuff — soft skills involved in presenting and communicating — to the big stuff — coworkers turned dear friends, and hopefully long-lasting relationships.
Now that my career as an undergraduate has come to an end, I am embarking on the next leg of my adventure. In September 2019, I will be hopping on a flight to Guatemala, where I will serve as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years. Afterwards, I hope to apply to graduate programs, perhaps in linguistics, perhaps in public health. Whatever the case may be, I look forward to deepening my relationship with the Spanish language and applying all that I have learned as a student at the University of Michigan to my work in what us undergraduates regularly learned to refer to as the real world.