The Spanish major opening up opportunities

Jody Phelps

Jody Phelps ’18

Academic focus: Spanish and geography double major

Internship: Santa Fe Dreamers Project, New Mexico

Study abroad: School for International Training, Bolivia: Multiculturalism, Globalization and Social Change, Cochabamba, Bolivia

A lot of factors contributed to my decision to major in Spanish and since then, it has led me to so many opportunities.

I had been studying Spanish since middle school and always loved it. In high school, I participated in an exchange program in Madrid, Spain, for five weeks. I loved being immersed in Spanish and I bonded a lot with my host family.

Once I got to Mount Holyoke, I knew I wanted to take Spanish courses to further my language skills, and since I had already declared a geography major, I thought I would do a Spanish minor. My Spanish professor at the time told me a Spanish major was only a few classes more than the minor, so I went ahead and declared that major as well. Since then, I have both studied abroad and had an amazing internship that both drew heavily on my Spanish skills.

In my junior year, I studied abroad in Cochabamba, Bolivia. I had considered going back to Spain so I could see my host family, but I knew I already had an established connection there and that if I wanted to go back I could figure that out on my own. However, I had no connections in South America and figured studying abroad there would allow me to have another host family and learn about a whole other part of the world. Studying abroad had its challenges, but I think it was one of the best periods of my life. I loved living with a Bolivian family; they were caring and my sisters always included me in their plans. I grew confident in my abilities to effectively communicate in Spanish and to navigate around a new city with different norms.

I took classes and learned about social changes and globalization and how these themes affect Bolivia. I also participated in an independent study in which I worked in a women’s prison in Cochabamba, talking with the detainees and learning their stories. In exchange, I taught a few English classes in the prison at the request of the women. My entire time in Bolivia was fascinating and moving, and I strongly believe I'll return one day.

The summer after my junior year, I I interned for six weeks with the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, a nonprofit immigration law firm that focuses on cases related to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, as well as asylum petitions, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was an amazing experience that drew heavily on my Spanish. Just being in New Mexico gave me many opportunities to speak in Spanish, even when I went to the grocery store.

During weekly DACA clinics I would translate, interpret and communicate with Spanish-speaking clients. Many of the documents we submitted to the government, such as birth and death certificates, needed to be translated into English, so I got a lot of practice and learned new Spanish vocabulary, especially legal terms.

I also worked weekly in a rural detention center with asylum seekers. Many of the men detained spoke French or Portuguese, and I used my Spanish to get by and communicate with them, or I would use the assistance of other detainees who were multilingual and happened to speak Spanish. There were also detainees from Central America who spoke only Spanish, so I would try to see if I could answer their questions or if they were issues for the attorney.

Spanish was a huge part of my career at Mount Holyoke and in my other ventures. Had I not declared a Spanish major, I’m not sure that my level of proficiency would have been sufficient for my study abroad and internship opportunities. I am forever grateful that I did, and I look forward to see where else my Spanish will take me!