Majors and Year of Graduation: Agricultural and Applied Economics, 2011
I feel passionate about: economics and jazz music.
Languages I have taken at UW-Madison: Spanish, Thai
Why those languages? I became interested in learning Thai, mainly from having studied abroad in Bangkok, Thailland for a semester. Meeting and developing friendships with Thai people there has driven me to try to acquire a working knowledge of their language in order to create more meaningful interpersonal exchanges with them.
Did you begin language study at the kindergarten-high school level? What language(s)? How did K-12 language study impact your later decision to take a language? I began formally studying Spanish as a high school freshman and continued studying it throughout the rest of high school. I attended Madison Area Technical College for my first two years of college, where I did not take any language, and then was accepted at UW-Madison for my junior year. I enrolled in Spanish again in my first semester, but in subsequent semesters, I couldn't find space for it in my schedule and thus put it aside. When the opportunity arose to study abroad for a semester in Southeast Asia and become exposed to a new language, I viewed it as a fresh start to try my hand at learning a new language that I knew nothing about.
What has studying that language meant to you? How has it enriched your life, whether personally, academically, or professionally? I don't have any hard and fast plans to live or work in Thailand in the future, so I'm uncertain the extent to which a working knowledge of Thai will have practical application for my life. I fully intend to return to Bangkok periodically in order to visit my friends there, but these trips might only last three or four weeks at a time. I've asked myself the question, "Is it worth it then for me to put in all this work to develop a skill that I might use for a few weeks every couple years or so?" Practically speaking, probably not, however, practicality is only one piece of the equation. I've found studying Thai language to be quite intrinsically rewarding. Truthfully, the whole process has been just a lot of fun. It's very challenging demanding a mix of logic and creativity. There's also an interesting dynamic in the fact that the language is both the subject of study and, at the same time, the means by which to understand it. In this way, learning more of it improves your capacity to decipher it. The process feeds on itself as you recognize patterns and begin to understand the mechanisms by which the language combines smaller words to construct more complex ones.
I've also come to understand the power of language as tool to enhance personal connections. Learning a language isn't something that just happens by accident; there's a tremendous amount of time and energy involved. A guy who ventures into a foreign country able to command some of the language already has a bit more credibility than a tourist just stopping over for a week. It indicates to some degree that you have invested yourself in that place, that you have a stake in the country and in the people, which provides an excellent platform for developing deeper relationships. This factor has proven to be a strong incentive for me to advance my knowledge of Thai. Overall, I've thoroughly enjoyed developing this aspect of my life.
Outside of classroom learning, in what other situations have you been able to apply your language skills or international interests? (hobbies, jobs, service learning, volunteering, etc.) After having formally studied a bit more I returned to Bangkok for a visit in late spring of 2010 and was able to speak some Thai with many of my friends that I met on my last visit.
My favorite word(s) in a language I know: แล้ว [leaow] ("already" in Thai). It is used to indicate past tense. It sounds cool and Thai people who speak English sometimes use it at the end of their English sentences, which is hilarious.
A memorable UW-Madison language class experience: Participating in a Thai language skit for the SEASSI (Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute) cultural night banquet.
A good book I just read: Outliers by Malcom Gladwell
My plans for after graduation include: Eventually, I'd like to get a Ph.D in Economics or Agricultural Economics. In the meantime, I might get involved with either the Peace Corps or Teach For America in order to get some experience before starting graduate school.