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Expand Your Horizons With Cultural Immersion in Spain

Every field you can imagine -- health care, marketing, public service, real estate, financial services, and international law and trade, to name a few -- has a burgeoning need for Spanish-speaking professionals. That's what it's like in the competitive career world.

"Any specialized talent or skill an employee may possess gives him or her a greater opportunity for professional success," affirms Yolonda L. King, publicist for Aflac Worldwide Headquarters (Columbus, GA). "If an individual is proficient in Spanish, he or she will be able to communicate with and meet the needs of our growing number of Spanish-speaking customers."

There's no denying it: Bilingual employees, particularly Spanish speakers, are a valuable asset in the workplace. The demand is in line for bilingual employees with the increasing number of Spanish-speaking Americans; the U.S. Census Bureau now reports America as the fourth largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, with 31 million in 2004 and an estimated 52 million by 2020.

So how do you dive into the world of Spanish and beef up your resume? According to language experts, nothing works better than an immersion program in a country where the language is spoken. What could be better than studying a year or semester abroad?

Spain has become a popular choice for students looking to immerse themselves in the Spanish culture. Whether you're studying in the boisterous cities of Madrid and Seville, or in the smaller towns like Salamanca or Segovia, Spanish colleges and institutions of learning offer a wide variety of flexible options for language study -- both full and part time.

Studying for Future Success
Lytch Tornow, a student from Hollins University (Roanoke, VA), is pursuing her studies at the Center for Cross-Cultural Studies in Seville. "I knew that a full immersion program in the language would benefit me."

And there's nothing holding the 21-year-old back from mastering the language. Lytch's 15-credit courseload includes two language and grammar courses, a literature class, cinema class, and one on contemporary political and social issues in Spain, all taught in Spanish. She is confident her cultural immersion and subsequent proficiency in Spanish will give her added opportunities to pursue bilingual positions in her fields of choice: international law and business negotiations.

A fellow Hollis student, Ashley Esakson, 21, agrees that the bilingual skills she's honing at the Center in Seville will give her the ventaja (advantage) in her professional pursuit of immigration law. Although Ashley admits that leaving her best friends and family has been challenging, she knows that her time away will help further her career goals and make her a more well-rounded future executive.

Landing a nice gig is not the only thing on Ashley's mind; she also ponders the less tangible aspects of a study abroad program. "Ever since I arrived here, I'm more relaxed and not as nervous about traveling alone. I think anyone who decides to completely immerse herself in another culture and speak a foreign language for four months is incredibly brave ... especially [if you] do it on your own."

Reaping the Rewards
Many students who have participated in a cultural immersion program are already seeing the fruits of their efforts.

Alisha Forbes, 25, a public relations executive at RBB Public Relations (Miami, FL), has every reason to be pleased with her abroad experience, which turned into a two-year stay. The graduate of the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, NC) emphasizes that fluency in Spanish is key to finding employment in a state like Florida.

"Speaking Spanish doesn't make me stand out, but it doesn't leave me out either," Alisha explains. "Those who have an edge stand out because of other excellent attributes and skills in addition to being able to speak [the language]."

Christopher Lo Sapio, a student at Seton Hall University's Stillman School of Business (South Orange, NJ), who recently studied in the Southeastern city of Alicante, is also reaping the benefits of his stay abroad.

"One of the first things I did after I settled in was go on an internship interview at an upscale law firm in northern New Jersey," he says. The hiring attorney took one look at his r�sum� and started to ask questions about his language proficiency. "It was great to feel confident and say that I had used Spanish in everyday living situations while abroad," he beams.

Seeing the Bigger Picture
Learning to speak a new language from scratch, or taking it to the level of a native speaker, is only part of the fun of being exposed to a new culture. Indeed, studying abroad can be one of the most exhilarating experiences of your college life. It is an opportunity to see and encounter things beyond what a tourist usually perceives. Learning about a country's customs, values, economy, and people firsthand helps many discover their own capabilities.

These sentiments are echoed by Sofia Redford, 19, from Mount Holyoke College (South Hadley, MA). "I love [the second] language, but I have also learned a greater appreciation for English," she claims.

Sofia is presently enrolled at the Centro Universitario de Estudios Hispanicos with the Hamilton College Academic Year in Spain program. "My time here has taught me a lot about my own independence, boundaries, and expectations. Being on my own, forging my own path and writing my own history in a new country with a different language and new friends has helped me figure out what I want."

Christopher sums up the whole experience succinctly: "I wouldn't trade my experience abroad for anything in the world."