The Importance of Being Bilingual

Posted on April 25th, 2017 by

By: Emily Syverud

If you polled all seniors tomorrow, I’d like to think that we could all agree on one thing – the world has changed a lot since we started at Gustavus as first-years in 2013. Throughout the presidential election and up to today I have noticed an increase in anti-immigrant sentiments and a tense dialogue about what it means to be a “true American”. A lot of President Trump’s campaign was built on promises to separate the US from the rest of the world, including our Latino neighbors. At the same time, the presence of Latinos in the US and the use of Spanish in daily life continue to grow. I believe that bilingualism is extremely important and necessary to create connections between communities, have productive discussions about our current issues, and create a more welcoming and inclusive future for our country.

I have loved taking classes in the Spanish department at Gustavus because of their emphasis on cultural and community learning. I have had the opportunity to get to know a Latino family in St. Peter, work as a tutor with elementary school students and put together literary bags for the public library. These projects gave me the opportunity to practice Spanish in real-life situations and connect with the Latino community in St. Peter. My hope is that the connections this community has with students at Gustavus are a reminder that they are welcome here and a can serve as a counterbalance to the negative rhetoric present in the media.

In the classroom, the department doesn’t solely focus on grammar, vocabulary and exams. Instead, in multiple classes I have learned about the history and culture of Latino countries and had discussions about race, culture and discrimination. This type of education helps to combat the lack of knowledge that many Americans have about the countries that are our closest neighbors and is yet another way to overcome the divisions between communities and encourage a multicultural worldview.

In the future, I plan to use all that I have learned from the Spanish department, from the irregular subjunctive to the common values of Latino countries, to work as a primary care doctor and serve the Latino community in the Twin Cities. My time here has helped me develop competency and confidence in Spanish and provided me the tools to engage in cultural education. I hope to create a welcoming and safe environment for people who are placed at a disadvantage as they navigate an unfamiliar and confusing healthcare system. I am extremely grateful for all the opportunities I have had at Gustavus and can’t wait to use my bilingualism to contribute to the creation of a country that welcomes everyone and values diversity.


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