Igniting the Passion

For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to foreign languages and cultures, attributing my interest not only to my multi-ethnic family, but also, perhaps surprisingly, to my solely English-speaking upbringing.  Throughout my childhood, I had exposure to many cultures, Portuguese and Puerto Rican being the most prevalent.  But somehow, without the language, I felt like I was missing out.   

Spanish was my first love, and I began studying it in school at age 12.  I loved everything about it; how the words sounded rolling off my tongue, the beat of the music, the openness of the people and the culture.  Then, four years later, Portuguese took me by surprise and quickly swept me off my feet again.  It was like a passionate love affair that was all my own, and I spent hours studying independently with books and tapes.   During these early years, I was fortunate enough to travel to Puerto Rico, Portugal, and Brazil.   These first experiences with traveling and language started me on a life-long path.   Being able to really communicate with the non-English-speaking people I encountered inspired me.  Getting beyond the surface motivated me. 

My greatest opportunities presented themselves at William & Mary.

As a Hispanic Studies major, I had always planned on spending the spring of my junior year in Spain.  But when I came across a banner advertising ISA’s program in Florianópolis, Brazil, my fate was sealed.  In my mind, there was no way I could not go, and I did everything in my power to make it happen.  Florianópolis is known throughout Brazil as the ilha da magia (the island of magic), and with over 40 stunning beaches, expansive mountains, and a quaint little city, it is no wonder!  I love it with all my heart. 

Floripa, as the locals call it, has a rich, relaxed culture.  I’ll admit, at first I resisted this carefree attitude, afraid to give up my “control.”  But after a short time, Floripa’s magic worked its way into my soul, and I began to embrace it.  Before long, I was wearing tiny bikini’s, celebrating feminine curves, hiking up unknown trails, dyeing my tongue bright purple while indulging in açaí, eating brigadeiros to my heart’s content, and staying out way past my bedtime.  And, since school lacked the total language immersion I craved, I dedicated my time to making Brazilian friends, getting to know my family, both blood-related and not, and absorbing as much Portuguese as I could.  Brazil ignited a passion in me, a spark that I cannot ignore.  I’m sure I’ll be back before long. 

Sevilla was another blessing that came my way less than a year after getting back from Floripa.  It was a very different experience due to the language, culture, city, and rigorous academics, but I enjoyed every minute of it.  Sevilla is enchanting, and the sevillanos warn you that the bright blue night sky will make you fall in love… and it does. 

I took fantastic trips almost every weekend, mostly around Spain, but also to Portugal and Morocco.  I learned so much and saw so many great things, yet always felt happy to return to Sevilla.  Before my eyes, this foreign place began to feel like home.  My Tribe family and host family, composed of a Spanish mother, her two daughters, and four other American girls, transformed into my real family, my support system.  I learned many lessons there, too.  For example, running in spandex shorts is considered inappropriate, and it’s not socially acceptable to come home from a night out earlier than 6 am.  But all joking aside, Sevilla taught me how to find a good balance in my life, open up to new friends, and gave me the confidence to declare myself fluent in Spanish. 

My two study abroad experiences have given me so much.  I discovered that, somehow, being out of my comfort zone really gets me in my element.  I began to see the endless possibilities in front of me, becoming the person I had always wanted to be.  For me, language is the invaluable key that opens up the world and penetrates seemingly impossible barriers.  It turns an anonymous, “flat,” being into a multi-faceted family member or friend, with universal feelings and emotions that we all know and understand.  Essentially, being able to share language makes a person come alive.  The life-changing discoveries that my two semesters abroad have bestowed upon me have made me who I am, shown me my purpose, and given my life meaning.  With all the uncertainties that graduation brings, one thing I know for sure is that I’ll be working with and loving foreign languages, cultures, and travel for the rest of my life.

Kate Wessman ‘13 is a Hispanic Studies major and will be receiving her Masters in Foreign Language Education and ESL at the W&M School of Education in ‘14. The proudest “Quarter-Rican” you’ve ever met, Kate has always been inspired by her multi-faceted ethnic background (Portuguese, Puerto Rican, Greek and Swedish). In fact, her dad has been calling her “Adventure Girl” since she was only a few years old due to her never-ending wanderlust.  Her strong passion for languages and great curiosity about other cultures has led her to travel, study, and live abroad in various countries.  She speaks Spanish fluently and has an advanced level of conversational Portuguese.  To read more about the experiences of this “adventure girl,” check out her study abroad blogs: Florianópolis, Brazil and Sevilla, Spain.

About International W&M

The Reves Center for International Studies promotes, develops, and supports the global dimensions of learning, teaching, research, and community engagement at the College of William & Mary
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