Reflecting on his experiences as a Romance Languages & Literatures (RLL) major, recent graduate Hayden Graves (B.A. ‘22) emphasized the strength of the connections he made with classmates and faculty.

“I enjoyed the community of it, getting to work with all sorts of different people from different backgrounds, that was always my favorite thing;  getting to meet everyone on the first day of class, going to office hours, asking professors about their lives,” he noted.  “Making those connections is so enriching; so nice.  It feels really good to have a support system in your passion, not just your field of study.” 

As a member of the Italian Student Association (ITSA) at U-M, Hayden appreciated the opportunity to converse and spend time with fellow students of Italian.  He joined ITSA his junior year and was elected to the club’s Secretary position his senior year.

“I knew I wanted opportunities to do more with Italian, and I knew I needed something social, as it was during Covid.  I knew I wanted to be a part of ITSA, since it is a very engaging club, and everyone is very dedicated,” he said.  “It was a supplemental form of studying, I could enrich my knowledge of Italian while pursuing something not academic. You can learn the language in a different way.”

Hayden remarked that the ITSA events involving food were his favorites.  He looks back fondly upon the times the group cooked together, met for dinner, grilled outdoors, and held conversation hours over coffee.  

Hayden’s interest in learning languages began in middle school, where he discovered that he had an affinity for learning French.  In high school, he continued his French coursework and began studying Portuguese on his own.  Hayden knew he wanted to study more than one language in college, which led him to major in RLL, along with a major in International Studies (with a Comparative Culture and Identity subplan), and a minor in Translation Studies. 

Hayden noted that his majors and his minor “all fit within the spirit of language, culture, and media studies.  It was really nice to do the same things a bit differently in the different departments.”

As an RLL major, which involves studying more than one Romance language, Hayden initially focused on French and Spanish, and then decided to add Italian as a third language toward his requirements.  He even completed coursework in Portuguese, Dutch, and German during his time as a U-M student.

“I completed the [LSA] language requirement like five times!” he remarked.

For students considering majoring in RLL, Hayden recommends to begin coursework “the sooner the better,  and to be prepared to study your second language more than your first language.”

“Don’t feel like the study of another language is weakening other ones,” he noted.  “I still think about that from time to time.  You have to be prepared to feel like you are lacking in some way, but it doesn’t mean you are. It is part of the deal you’re making; you’re making a commitment to divide your time, which is going to divide your time to dedicate to the languages.”

“I don’t really believe in fluency, I believe in competency,” he continued. “It is then your job to use that competence to communicate; to understand.  Four years is enough to get started.  Being perfect isn’t the goal.”

As a student, Hayden sought out opportunities which connected with his interests in languages and language-learning. He was a Research Assistant for a translation project with Prof. Giulia Riccò, in which he translated materials from Portuguese to English and Italian to English.  

“Getting to see what academia looks like as a career was really valuable,” he said.

Additionally, Hayden was a Student Consultant/Program Assistant for ELI 994: College Teaching in the U.S.: Pedagogy, Culture and Language.  In this role, he assisted international graduate students preparing to teach in LSA for the first time.

“I provided feedback on teaching, assigned students to rooms, and made sure undergraduates and graduate students could communicate with each other,” he remarked. 

Hayden also enjoyed working at the Language Resource Center’s front desk during his senior year. He said he valued “getting to be in that community of people learning languages and appreciative of languages, and getting to chat with faculty who stopped in.”

At RLL’s commencement ceremony this year, Hayden was awarded the Chiara Maria Levin Award for Breadth and Excellence in the Romance Languages.

“I was surprised and appreciative, “ Hayden said.  It felt like I was being recognized for something I had been working for my whole entire academic career.  I felt very grateful.”

Hayden’s next steps include moving to France and joining the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF).  He will be an English language assistant in a high school classroom, assisting the main teacher and serving as a cultural liaison to the students.

Hayden reflected that pursuing the RLL major “was a way to explore different avenues and create new passions I can now dive deeper into.”