Alayna Simonds

What was your major/minor?   How did you choose those specific areas of study?  

I am a ‘22 BBA graduate from the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business with an Emphasis in Marketing & Management and a Minor in Spanish Language, Literature & Culture. 

Growing up, I was always motivated by two passions: creative storytelling and human understanding. Even more so, I always found myself asking the question “Why?” to almost every phenomenon or reality. 

After attending a Spanish Immersion School from first to fourth grade, continuing my Spanish education in high school and advancing my learning by studying abroad in San Sebastián, Spain in the Summer of 2017, investing in international language, global experience and learning from individuals with diverse cultural backgrounds has always been an additional layer to my story.

Looking back on my early education prior to my U-M admittance, I was able to cater to my above passions through three separate journalistic, creative, community-building and value-driven initiatives. These three initiatives were co-creating an academic club alongside my closest friends with the sole purpose of watching, discussing and analyzing moving TED Talks, creating a podcast in which I interviewed local strangers at coffee shops to ask them questions about life, such as “What makes you happy?,” and designing the visual language and theme “We Are All Teachers. We Are All Students” for senior yearbook. Each of these three initiatives allowed me to uncover value in the diverse human voices all around me and to create an offering, end product, or, most importantly, end impact that celebrates those exact voices and the people behind them. 

With these three experiences behind me and a remaining desire to continue my Spanish education, I knew my educational trajectory at U-M had to dive deeper into discovering, synthesizing and amplifying value through creative storytelling, human understanding and international experience. 

Shortly after my admittance to U-M’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, I gravitated towards and declared an Emphasis in Marketing & Management. To me, Marketing is an engine that invites us all to seek, analyze and honor the stories of the people around us, wrapped up in a bow made of creative content, direction and delivery. On the other hand, Management is an engine that invites us to develop not just our own stories but also the stories of others and how we are stronger as one. Electing those Emphases was the perfect way to honor all the interests and experiences that had brought me to the business school to begin with. 

As my participation in this article confirms, electing to also obtain a Minor in Spanish Language, Literature & Culture was the first and most sure decision I ever made at U-M. I hope my words below help those considering the Minor feel confidence and excitement to do the same. 

What connections did you find/do you see between your major and your minor?

The truest connection I find between my BBA degree and Minor in Spanish Language, Literature & Culture is human understanding. 

Education in a foreign language is essentially a decision to better understand international traditions, cultural practices, linguistic phenomena and, of course, the people who speak and spread positivity through that language as well; it’s a commitment to honor a way of living other than your own, a commitment that challenges us to think outside of what we find comfort and passivity in. The pursuit of education in a foreign language is, as I see it, one of the most rewarding experiences because you step outside of yourself to get to know and, ultimately, appreciate the diversity that makes life and the world so worth living in. 

Relating human understanding back to my BBA degree and Emphases in Marketing & Management, I view business, specifically Marketing & Management, as fields that welcome us to listen, create for, and provide value to humans from all walks of life. Similar to the decision to pursue education in foreign language, a BBA degree equipped me with the motivation to uncover human sentiment and/or human stories in society and the confidence to employ analyses, strategic decision making and differentiated, lasting solutions to honor them.  

When did you begin studying Spanish?  What led to your interest in pursuing Spanish study at U-M?

I began studying Spanish at an early age when attending a Spanish Immersion School from first to fourth grade. Following my early exposure to the language, I continued studying the language in high school, in which I was fortunate enough to embark on a four-month study abroad experience in Northern Spain, specifically San Sebastián in the Summer of 2017. This experience solidified how important and fulfilling it was for me to use my Spanish in real time, to be around students who shared that same interest and to learn from the communities who speak the language natively. 

After Spanish was a key piece of my early education, I knew I wanted to continue learning the language at whatever university my life took me to. Coupling my BBA degree with a Minor in Spanish Language, Literature & Culture at U-M was the perfect outlet to step away from some of the more analytical, technical and strategic work I was executing in the business school; rigorous literature classes in Spanish brought me back to my love of stories and discussion, linguistics classes gave dimension to the fundamental grammar and vocabulary knowledge I had and senior-level seminars put the two together in which thinking in Spanish turned into ideating in Spanish, writing in Spanish turned into analyzing in Spanish and speaking in Spanish turned into storytelling in Spanish. 

Taking my education a step further, I always hoped that my time studying Spanish at U-M would give me further confidence to pursue another study abroad adventure during my junior year. Even more so, the thought of pursuing an eventual career based internationally has always been top of mind. Although the global pandemic unfortunately put a pause on my junior year study abroad plans in Madrid, Spain, I am still holding myself to the promise that I will study and hopefully work in a Spanish-speaking country in the years to come. 

What have been some of your favorite Spanish courses in our program and why?

Two of my favorite Spanish courses that I took at UofM were SPANISH 487 “Do You Speak Andalusian?” taught by Nick Henriksen and SPANISH 488 “Body Shots: Photography in Latin America” taught by Nilo Couret. 

Do You Speak Andalusian?” was the first linguistics course that I took at U-M and it completely transformed my comprehension of the Spanish language. Andalusia is the southernmost region of Spain and its dialect is known to be extremely unique. The course invited us to not only break down the phonetics of Andalusian Spanish, but also all existent Spanish dialects. I was able to look at words, sentences and an entire language in an entirely new light, considering how sound and structure were a keyhole into someone’s upbringing and identity. Even more so, Henriksen took linguistics a step further by teaching us how the establishment and evolution of Spanish dialects are often accompanied by dark political, socioeconomic and sociocultural pasts and prejudice.

Body Shots: Photography in Latin America” was the last Spanish class that I took during my time at U-M, making it one to remember. With my love for creative expression, the opportunity to study renowned Spanish-speaking photographers and their compositions and write analytical pieces on their work was one I knew I couldn’t pass up. Each week focused on a set of Spanish-speaking photographers with a common competency that they experimented in and ranging social commentary. As I have always loved to create and share my own personal photographic and graphic design projects on my creative portfolio linked here, I find so much happiness in breaking down the how, why and so what of any form of creativity. The final project of this course was a photo essay in which students were tasked with creating their own photographic compositions inspired by the work of an artist studied in the course. This project pushed me to lean further into my love for surrealism and, more specifically, the act of bringing dreams to life through visual art. 

I would encourage any and all students pursuing language courses in RLL to take both a linguistics course as an eye-opening challenge as well as an upper-level writing course in a subject they have personal passion in to allow for their extracurricular interests to serve as motivators in the classroom. 

What advice would you give to students considering majoring or minoring in Spanish or taking Spanish coursework in our program?

First off, I would absolutely recommend that students study a Romance Language, whether as a major or a minor as a counterpart to their primary field of study. An RLL degree is an extremely fulfilling, challenging experience in which you come to appreciate how cultures other than your own speak, think, create, and see the world. Even more so, being an RLL student connects you to so many like-minded students equally intrigued by the personal fulfillment and international exposure possible through studying language. 

To make the most of an RLL major or minor, I recommend that students take a wide variety of language courses, spanning special-topics literature courses, linguistics courses and career specialty courses. I found that each course type challenged my Spanish proficiency differently, allowed me to meet U-M students across colleges and added new dimensions to my education and how I may apply my learnings post-grad. Additionally, I absolutely recommend that students continue their involvement in RLL outside of the classroom. Some of my greatest memories as an RLL student were as a Spanish tutor and student representative on RLL’s Gender Diversity Committee. As a Spanish tutor, I was able to apply what I was learning in real time and as a student-representative on RLL’s Gender Diversity Committee, I challenged myself by entering a foreign, yet extremely important and necessary discussion around how to adapt RLL education such that all gender identities feel welcomed, respected and set up for success in coursework and the classroom. 

Are there additional ways you found, as a student, to pursue your interest in studying Spanish or helping others learn Spanish, outside the classroom?

I served as a BBA Global Student Ambassador in which I assisted international students on their move to Ann Arbor and transition as interim BBA students for a semester. As someone who transferred into the business school after my freshman year, this experience was, in a way, an opportunity to give back to those who helped me transition back in 2019. I would highly recommend that any RLL student seek extracurricular involvement to keep learning, to keep meeting students you may stay connected with forever and to get a first-hand glimpse at how your RLL education will serve you for years to come. 

Finally, after having such an unforgettable experience during my high-school study abroad, through the business school’s abroad programming, I was accepted to study abroad in Madrid, Spain during the winter of my Junior year. However, the global pandemic placed my second study-abroad opportunity on hold. Abroad education and international career paths remain a top priority as my life continues. 

In what ways are you currently pursuing your interest in studying Spanish and/or putting into practice the skills you’ve gained through our program?

When looking back more broadly at the main skills I gained while being an RLL student, outside of proficiency in the Spanish language, I believe my Spanish Minor taught me three key skills: critical thinking/analysis on foreign subject material, perseverance through the uncomfortable or unknown and, most importantly, human understanding for those with different backgrounds than myself. 

Much of the learning process associated with studying a foreign language consists of breaking down history, sociology and humanities subject matter with the given challenge of doing so in a language other than your own; doing so taught me how to analyze, problem-solve and create discussion even through moments of confusion and uncertainty. Even more so, the robust seminar style of almost any RLL Spanish course allowed me to learn from and alongside so many other RLL students as we all made discoveries and mistakes together. Finally, the most special aspect to learning a foreign language is coming to appreciate the faces and cultures of those who speak the language natively. I believe that we all can learn something from everyone we meet and the ability to zoom in on the learnings we can take away from those speaking a language, honoring cultural customs and holding separate perspectives other than the ones we grew up with is an unmatched experience. 

With the three learnings above in mind, I hope to never stop analyzing, problem-solving and leading discussion even amidst confusion and uncertainty, I hope to always connect with and learn from colleagues and peers doing the same and, most importantly, I hope to continue to look for new lessons, perspectives and ways of living from communities around the world. 

What are your future plans/goals?  What is next for you?  

Coincidentally, I am currently at a crossroads in my life and career in which I have an extreme desire to do two things: Build off of my BBA degree by gaining further education in creative fields such as digital advertising, photo and video production, user experience design, brand strategy and all things creative direction as well as a desire to immerse myself in another abroad experience. With that being said, I have made the extremely difficult decision to leave the BBA Marketing program at SC Johnson (SCJ) in which I have spent an incredible year learning digital strategy and retail sales analysis on SCJ’s Target Sales Team as the lead eComm Sales Analyst in order to pursue these two desires. I am currently applying for graduate education in the above fields in Spain with the hopes that I will continue my learning, Spanish fluency and love for international experience by obtaining post-graduate work abroad as well. 

My long-term dream would be to become a creative director in visual media, film, music or broad entertainment. I never feel more alive than when I am ideating on how the visual identity of something has the ability to challenge, reveal, inspire, connect, tell a story and/or give meaning to both the subject matter it serves or the people it reaches. Wherever life takes me, I hope that I am equally able to challenge myself, to inspire myself, to connect with those around me, to constantly lean on storytelling and to always give meaning to something larger than myself through creativity and expression of any form.