Language and linguistics are topics that speak to four-year Blair senior Charlotte Buck ’17. At Chapel on February 16, she described how, at different times in her life, she has been an extrovert and an introvert and how her own use of language has often been based on the people around her. Last year, she spent her junior year in Spain, and she found the experience of speaking and, eventually, thinking, in a language other than English pivotal in helping her find her own true voice.
Charlotte lived with a Spanish host family in Zaragoza for nine months and attended a school in which all of her classes—except math—were taught in Spanish. Having only completed Spanish 3 before beginning this adventure, she felt at first as though she had been “thrown into the deep end.” She liked her hosts and new friends, but nevertheless, felt uncomfortable and alone. However, Charlotte did not let her discomfort get the best of her.
She set out to explore her new surroundings and familiarize herself with the language and culture on her own terms. “I had never been so happy, and I had never been so miserable,” she told her audience. “Learning a language and culture in that way was simultaneously fulfilling and also extremely difficult. I’m not sure my decision to go there would have been so easy if I had known how hard it would be. But knowing what I know now, I would go back in a heartbeat.”
Near the end of her stay in Spain, Charlotte experienced a lightbulb moment. While discussing a presentation with a teacher, she realized she had spoken a sentence with a grammatical structure she had never learned in class. “At that moment, my cognition was not just through a Spanish brain, an English brain or a sign language brain, but a mixture that combined the more subtle details of my character and comprehension,” she said. Having found her unique inner voice, her appreciation of her once-in-a-lifetime experience grew exponentially during her remaining stay abroad.
Charlotte hoped her Chapel would help teachers understand the challenges faced by students who are not native English speakers and help students realize they should just be themselves. “Blair is only four years, which sounds like a long time, but it goes by really fast,” she said as she concluded her speech. “I wouldn’t recommend spending one minute being anyone other than you. And to do that sometimes requires getting out of the Blair bubble, not necessarily by going to Spain, but by learning to speak your own language.”