Let me tell you a story about a little boy I knew.
The little boy was born in Cuba and learnt Spanish as his mother tongue. In 1961, when he was 10 years old and struggling through 5th grade, his father was transferred to Spain in a scheme designed by the U.S. company he worked for to expatriate loyal employees who had opposed Castro's policy of intervening foreign concerns in the island.
Up to that moment this little boy's knowledge of English was limited to "mother", "father", "my taylor is rich" and "look at the picture on lesson five".
Before arriving in Spain, this little boy's family had to spend six months in Detroit preparing his father to disembark in his new job so... the boy had to attend school and learn to live with "total strangers" (including strong racial unrest) in a city where no one spoke Spanish. Thanks to that Catholic school he attended (St. Charles Boromeo), television, a Jewish friend he made (Jeff), a black boy (Carlyle) he used to partner with at boy scout gatherings and that new society in general, he managed to become quite fluent in English and began to get by.
At the end of those loooong six months he was beginning to adapt to school, school mates (he met a girl named Leslie he used to go skating with and hold hands) and come to grips with his new life, he was abruptly transplanted to Spain.
Spain was at the time, to say the least, HARSH. Society was strict and sordid when it came to behavioral situations as those in Cuba or in the States and boys and girls his age were not as mature. He was sent to a Spanish Catholic school and life became dull and scary. The boy had to go into formation every morning and sing the "Cara al Sol" (hymn of the Falangistas) and was asked to memorize paragraphs of Language, History, Geography and what have you. Never ending divisions and multiplications were nightmares AND... if he didn't do it correctly or made mistakes he would receive a beating. Mind you, school hours ran from 900 hours to 1800 hours [9AM to 6PM] with two hours for lunch and then the pile of senseless homework.
One day, after being beaten because he was so nervous he couldn't respond in class to a lesson he was supposed to have memorized, he gathered all his books and went home saying he was quitting school. Since he had no possibility of going back home to aunts and uncles, his parents went on a search to find a school he would be comfortable in and regain his self esteem and... guess what?! There was the American School of Madrid where he slowly became a normal human being once again. It meant going back to English and meeting people from many nationalities and playing basketball and baseball and performing on the drama club and many other activities. It meant writing book reports and discussing History, not learning dates and battles by memory and, of course, developing that beautiful Spanglish they all spoke irrespective of nationalities, creeds or beliefs.
He eventually graduated from ASM and attended the Spanish University in Madrid facing, once again, the need to readapt to the Spanish system. But now he was a person in full. He knew how to cope, he had three languages (French came painfully from Mrs. Asunsolo) and he had the broadness of mind to face new challenges.
After graduating, he landed a job thanks in part from the knowledge acquired in college BUT also to his LANGUAGE SKILLS. This meant quite a lot in a country where practically no one was fluent in two languages, least to say three. Further on in life he held European responsibilities for Spain, France, Belgium and Holland; again thanks to his language skills.
As time went by, he saw himself defending budgets and presenting company results in the Corporate rooms in the Big Apple and I even heard he went to Romania to do a financial evaluation on the viability of a medicinals factory from a business the company he worked for had acquired there.
Some may think that this is one of those success stories, but it is not. It's just that this boy had the opportunity to broaden his mind and his personality by interacting with other languages and cultures.
12 July 2003
© 2003 - Imagiverse Educational Consortium