“Breaking the fourth wall” is the least violent act ever – at least in thespian terms.
I learned this phrase in drama classes during my freshman and sophomore years of high school. I certainly knew I would never excel in any type of arts, but still chose to enroll in drama to fulfill the “performing arts” category of my high school’s General Education requirements (at Harvard, this is commonly referred to as GenEds; some schools just say GE’s).
I must admit that oftentimes I whine about GenEds since it forces me out of my math and science comfort zone but there are tons of subtle advantages from GenEd classes. With the liberal arts type of education that is pretty widespread in the United States, I’m able to participate in a broader spectrum of conversations…which basically makes me feel more relevant to society!
My overwhelming appreciation for GenEd classes came quite suddenly late at night this summer as I was (ashamedly?) reading Malibu Nanny by Pam Behan which is a story about the nanny who raised the Kardashians (proof that pop culture fans exist at Harvard too!). In the book, there was a random mentioning of lutefisk which I would have either skipped over in my ignorance or too quickly skimmed about on Wikipedia. HOWEVER, I enrolled in Culture and Belief 16: Folklore and Mythology during my freshman fall semester of college and therefore, understood the underlying connotations behind lutefisk. There’s certainly no way I would have enrolled in a course that covered subject matters such as witchcraft and Halloween if the Culture and Belief requirement didn’t exist as a required GenEd at Harvard – in other words, I would have been missing out. Not only did this class introduce me to a handful of wise upperclassmen who were ready to share their wisdom about study skills and time management, but the course also allowed me to understand the cultural significance behind lutefisk, the concomitant preparation and dance customs, as well as the associated disgust of the meal. Of course my background knowledge of lutefisk wasn’t at all imperative to my understanding of the nanny’s story, but my knowledge indubitably added an extra layer of significance to the story that I would have otherwise missed out on.
Besides being able to better understand the childhoods of the Kardashian children, I’m also able to speak, read, AND write in Spanish to the credit of the liberal arts educational system. Within the liberal arts education, I think it’s common for US high schools to mandate one year of a foreign language class and this same requirement exists at Harvard too. To fulfill this requirement both in high school and college, I’ve chosen to pursue the beautiful Romance language of Spanish.
Having a foreign language requirement embedded into the liberal arts educational system has provided me with the opportunity to immerse myself in both the Spanish language and Latin American culture. To prove to myself that my six years of classroom Spanish has been effective, I participated in DRCLAS SIP (David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Summer Internship Program) for 8 weeks this summer. It’s a wonderfully organized program (I can’t rave about its organization enough!) in which I was able to live comfortably with a Peruvian family homestay, explore my interests in the medical field by shadowing doctors in a private Peruvian clinic, and test my Spanish (survival) skills.
A lot of these tests were proctored by movie theaters.
We even got loyalty cards…
Peruvian movie theaters were also where my obsession (literally!) with The Amazing Spiderman developed. No, my obsession doesn’t stem from the presence of Andrew Garfield – who I didn’t even recognize until my friends reminded me of his role in The Social Network (NOT the most accurate portrayal of Harvard by the way) after The Amazing Spiderman experience ended – but rather stemmed from the fact that I completely understood the Spanish dubbed movie!
Back during sophomore fall semester (woah, a year ago!), I enrolled in Spanish 40: “Advanced Spanish Language II, Viewing the Hispanic World” which has the course description:
To this day, I tell all my friends seeking advice about Spanish classes that Spanish 40 has been one of the most time consuming Spanish classes I’ve ever taken. It’s a normal Spanish class in the sense that there are the expected papers, exams, and in-class participation. However, a large chunk of the homework entails watching movies on top of reading. The movies are all provided centrally on campus in the Lamont Library LRC (Language Resource Center) or if you’re one of those students living in the quad (the “quad” represents the three farthest upperclassmen houses from Harvard Yard; to be fair, what they lack in convenience, they make up for in house spirit), the movies are also available in the SOCH (Student Organization Center at Hilles, I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced like ‘sock’…). Realistically and logistically speaking, movies make the class more time consuming since I haven’t learned of a way to skim movies. At least I felt like the hours I dedicated to the class were worthwhile since films can be a great primary source into unique cultural customs that aren’t focused on in class such as slang phrases, style of dress, and food served. Yet I can still clearly remember my frustration whenever I was watching the movies. The majority of movies made me feel less confident in my Spanish abilities since my understanding wavered with all the characters speaking super quickly and using tons of new vocabulary.
Perhaps my obsession with the new Spiderman movie is positively correlated with the fact that it’s the first movie I’ve watched in Spanish that I’ve fully understood! Spiderman will most likely always represent the milestone I’ve reached with the Spanish language. Although it may seem crazy/nonsensical to measure my Spanish abilities with how much I understood The Amazing Spiderman movie, my friends and I all agreed that our Spanish has definitely come a loooong way in order for us to be able to laugh, cry, and be completely entertained throughout the incredible cinematic creation.
Making a habit of going to the movies during our 8 weeks in Peru may seem like a waste of time while in a foreign country, but after a long day of public transportation and interning, escaping the real world by breaking the fourth wall of a movie is as good (and cheaper!) as any spa day!
Even if you told me the day before I landed in Peru (can’t believe that was 2 months ago!!) that I would soon be able to pass off as a Peruvian through my ability to tan easily and my Spanish fluency, I would have told you to stop pulling my leg – and most likely in a mean tone since this is basically all I’ve ever wanted. But within two phenomenal months of participating in DRCLAS SIP, not only my abilities and confidence in my Spanish has improved, but also my perspectives about both my academic career and everyday amenities have completely transformed. There’s a reason why everyone I’ve talked to about going abroad raves about their experiences and many of those reasons are eloquently detailed on this previous guest blog.
From living in South America for 2 months with the support of DRCLAS SIP, I definitely feel like I have a genuine understanding of multiple aspects of their culture – how they cheek kiss when they meet/greet, polite phrases to exclaim when leaving a reunion, how to bargain for cheaper prices, and the list goes on forever. All of these items, listed and nonlisted, could never be learned outside of Peru. I’ve learned a whole new perspective to looking at situations abroad and perhaps have become more Peruvian than some of my Peruvian born and raised friends. Regardless, we both enjoy this South American dish called “choclo con queso”
No surprises with this dish…notice the huge kernels!
which directly translates into corn with cheese. Delicious and simple, this local cuisine delightfully sums of my abroad experience because as corny and cheesy as my excitement about being abroad is, I can’t wait to go back to the USA and apply what I’ve learned – from general safety precautions to slang phrases in Spanish. But first, I’ll travel to Bolivia to meet up with a group of friends from Harvard!
From now until about the weekend before school starts (Sept. 4), I’ll be working with others from the Refresh Bolivia team in communities just outside of Cochabamba. Here, the team will try to promote health through ways most people in the states take for granted such as using a restroom properly. However, many communities don’t have restrooms and/or running water. For this last chunk of summer, it’s up to Refresh Bolivia to put their sweat (literally) and soul into providing these health essentials to underdeveloped communities!