My interest in and passion for the Spanish language and intercultural communication holds its roots in my first grade classroom in what was not so much a field trip but rather an intellectual awakening.
One Thursday afternoon in 1997, my first grade teacher, Mrs. Deegan, announced that the class would be going on a trip to Mexico the next day. Questions immediately began swirling in my head: What does one take to Mexico? For how long will we be gone? How hot is it in Mexico? Can my mother come? Mrs. Deegan assured me that it was but a short excursion to which I need not bring anything because we would be inside for the whole time and that, no, my mother unfortunately would not be able to accompany us on our journey southward.
That evening, I tried to do as much research as I could about going to Mexico. In my youthful naïveté, I genuinely believed that there was enough money in the public school budget to fly 100 first-graders to Mexico. In an era before Google, my quest for knowledge left me feeling fundamentally unfulfilled. I explained the situation to my mother and she simply winked and told me that I was going to enjoy myself. Once again, the lack of answers was beginning to worry me.
I was extremely anxious when I arrived at school the next day. After waiting in giddy anticipation all morning, we were finally told by Mrs. Deegan after lunch that it was time to get on the airplane and leave. She lined the entire class up in the classroom and led us out into the hallway, where we were greeted by the teacher from across the hall standing amongst several rows of classroom chairs lined up in rows as if they were seats on a jumbo jet.
Whilst “boarding” the bogus Boeing, I was more confused than ever. Surely a row of chairs could not take us anywhere special. After all, this wasn’t “The Magic Schoolbus”! Nonetheless, the teacher asked us all to fasten our seatbelts and prepare for takeoff. After a 90-second “flight”, she led us into the library, which was ornately decorated with stereotypical Cinco de Mayo decorations most likely purchased from Target. Regardless of the authenticity of the decorations, we were all in an excited stupor.
Throughout the afternoon, we participated in several activities that exposed us to different aspects of Mexican culture; we made flowers out of pipe cleaners and tissue paper, ate chips and salsa, read Mexican folk tales, learned Spanish words and even explored the history of the piñata and were able to break one open (an activity that I’m sure would give post-90‘s educators a heart attack). The families of our Hispanic classmates were there to help out and to provide us with insights into Hispanic culture, making the experience seem even more authentic.
After an hour or so of cultural immersion, it was time to return home. We walked single-file back into the hallway, boarded the airplane and “flew” back to our classroom. Although I may not have realized it at the time, I am now convinced that this field trip that wasn’t really a field trip sewed a seed within me that eventually grew into an immense interest in other languages and cultures. I have been studying Spanish now for seven years and am still immensely passionate about the language and the culture and look forward to continuing my studies at UMBC. Additionally, I have yet to actually visit Mexico but I know that when I am finally able to feed my insatiable desire for international travel, I will fondly think back to elementary school my trip to Mexico and have a deep and profound full-circle moment.