I arrived in the fall, when colors coated the trees and my hopes were still seeds waiting to sprout. But, as the leaves fell away so did my fears of being far from home. Now, I understand that distance gives us perspective – of the world and of ourselves. Living more than 5500 miles from home has taught me many things. I learned that we take our home wherever we go and that our roots are always in the land where our heart is. Like pollen, we can go to distant places but we never forget which flower we came from.
At the College I am working as a Spanish Teacher Associate (TA) through the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program. I am 27 years old and from Buenos Aires, Argentina. In my country, I teach English at an elementary school, as well as pedagogy and phonology at a college. I am currently studying music at a conservatory. I chose Williams because I was attracted to the College’s language department, the music and arts program and the town itself.
As a Language TA at the College, I am both a faculty member and a student. I teach conversation classes, tutor and organize cultural events, but I also take courses. I took literature, dancing and psychology courses and I was a member of the Williams Gospel and Concert choirs. I have taught Spanish, Argentine culture, traditional dances and music, and I even took the students on a field trip to New York, N.Y. during winter study.
While here, I got involved with the broader community, too. Once a month, I told stories and sang songs in Spanish for bilingual children at the Williamstown Public Library. During the winter, I volunteered at the Williamstown Elementary School teaching Spanish and Argentine culture. In New York, I participated as an interpreter in the United Nations Sustainable Development Forum. This month, we organized a concert of tango and Argentine folk music in the College, in which I sang. I was accompanied by local musicians and students from the College, who danced and played instruments. It was a beautiful night full of love, friendship, dancing, singing and wine with empanadas.
When I first arrived at Williams, I noticed that a lot of things were different. One of the most obvious differences was the greater need for personal space. In Argentina, I am used to standing closer to people. At the College at first, people would step away from me when I was conversing with them because I was standing closer than they were used to. Another difference is in greetings. In my country, we kiss on the cheek every time we greet someone, whether a stranger or a friend. At the beginning, when I met someone for the first time, I had to resist the force pulling me towards them, to kiss their cheek in greeting. I was also initially puzzled by U.S. eating habits and meal times. I am used to having dinner at 10 p.m., and a snack around 6 p.m. When I first started eating dinner according to the U.S. schedule, I would get hungry again at night. Apart from experiencing culture shock from being in the U.S., I have also experienced cultural shock among our group of TAs. There are currently 11 language TAs and two Fellows, all from different countries. We live in three houses across campus. It was hard, at first, to make connections across the vastly different cultures. But I love my TA community. Together we have shared travels, cultural events, meals, movie nights, wine, teaching techniques and laughter.
I enjoy traveling more than anything in life. During my program here, I have traveled with friends, with strangers and by myself to the Grand Canyon, Chicago, Boston, New York, D.C., Miami, Key West, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Montreal. During my travels I have met new people, tried new food and listened to music and amazing stories. And in a few days I am starting a new adventure to the West Coast, before I head back to Argentina. I feel grateful for all the opportunities I have had to share my passions, my culture and my langauge with this community. I have learned from everyone. I take home beautiful memories, culture, friends, love and experiences that I will always remember.
I am leaving in the spring, as the colors start to appear again – as well as new hopes. Inside of me, everything I learned is blooming. This experience has truly changed my perspective. Who we are is defined by our encounters with others and I believe that the purpose of our existence is to share. I have come out of these nine months a better person. When we learn to respect other cultures, we open our minds and inner world to the outer world around us. Encountering unique differences and identities allows us to learn and grow. If there is one piece of advice I could give you, it would be to study abroad, travel the world and broaden your horizons to new ideas and ways of interpreting the world. Walk unknown streets. There is an adventure waiting for you outside your comfort zone, just at the edge of your world.
Dominique Roberts is a Spanish language TA from Buenos Aires, Argentina. She lives on Stetson Court.