Senior English major Shanae Giles traveled to Ecuador this summer to complete a professional writing internship at the Wildsumaco Biological Station. In this post, Shanae describes how she overcame an unexpected language barrier: scientific jargon.
When I was first told that I had the opportunity to do my second English internship in Ecuador (of all of the places in the world), I literally cried from excitement. I’ve always loved the Spanish language and culture and I just couldn’t believe that my first travel abroad experience was going to be in a Spanish-speaking country. “Excited” doesn’t even begin to describe what I was feeling!
Signage from Ecuador. Photo courtesy of Shanae Giles.
I immediately began brushing up on my Spanish. I was thankful that I’d taken a Spanish Conversation course the semester before, so I knew I was at least more fluent than my other travel companions. You know the term “social butterfly”? Well, I’d consider myself a more hyperactive version of that, like a social squirrel, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself as much if I couldn’t talk to everyone that I met, regardless of the language barrier.
Time zoomed by, as it always does, and before I knew it I was in line with my travel companions boarding our first flight on U.S. Airways. Our group consisted of myself, Stenetta (another English intern), Travis (the biology professor), and four other biology majors who were taking the Tropical Ecology class. We were all nervous, we were all excited, and we were all deep in thought of what was ahead of us.
Two hours later…”Welcome to Miami!!!”
Four hours later…”Bienvenidos a Quito!!!”
I remember the feeling that swept over me when I looked out of the window as we were approaching South America and saw the burnt orange horizon of the sunset along the edges of the country. I knew, of course, that it was not my America, but I couldn’t have imagined how “not my America” it was going to actually turn out to be.
We spent two days soaking up the culture in Quito before heading up the bumpy, scenic road through the Andes Mountains to get to the Wildsumaco Biological Station. I immediately absorbed myself in the research and biodiversity around the station and quickly realized one of the most important lessons I’d end up learning at Wildsumaco. I’d spent so much time brushing up on my Spanish language that I never realized I would be faced with another language completely foreign to me: the language of biology majors and scientists.
Instead of letting this new language overwhelm me, I tried twice as hard to remember terminology, I went to every lecture, and I asked as many questions as I could. After just a few short days, I found myself able to identify new bird species and categorize fungi almost as well as the 300-level biology majors. I went to Ecuador thinking that I would learn to be more fluent in one language, but I came back to the States more fluent in two.
Now I just wish I had taken this trip my freshman year; it sure would’ve helped me ace Biology 105!
–Shanae Giles, senior English major (Professional Writing)