Unexpected Lessons

As I look at today’s date on the calendar, I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that it is the end of September! In just a little over a week I will be heading home and then making my way out to Iowa to attend my younger cousin’s wedding. I truly feel that she just got engaged last week, but almost a whole year has passed since that time. Now, we’re all preparing for the joyous occasion that will be her wedding – the first wedding among my cousins on my dad’s side. I guess you could say it’s official…we’re all growing up!

No one has come to this realization more clearly than my brother has, in my opinion. He is the oldest of seven grandchildren on that side and has seen a lot of changes over the last 20 odd years, including someone raining on his parade: me, his little sister. All of my life, my brother has been one step ahead, always outdoing me in every fashion. Until…I left home for college and took my education into my own hands. For the first time in my life, I was on my own  hundreds of miles away from the only place I ever knew and my family. I was responsible for every choice and action I made, and at first, that seemed frightening to me. However, I also came to this realization: I was in a brand new city and able to redefine myself. Six years ago, no one knew me here. No one knew what I was capable of, especially not me. Well, fast forward to today and I’m a college graduate, embarking on my career path and trying to create a life for myself. You could say that, I’ve “been there, done that and bought the diploma.” (Okay, those were actually “free,” haha). My brother, however, is still muddling through the college trenches and will soon be done next year. It’s been a long road for him but the past two years especially have been challenging for both of us. In these last two years he has shifted from the community college mindset to the university way of doing things. What’s more is, he’s now taking and finishing up upper level Spanish classes that I took…well, quite awhile ago.

From 2007 until now, I have seen dozens of textbooks, listened to thousands of hours of music, movies, lectures and written pages and pages of papers all in Spanish. I will admit that I haven’t always been modest and humble about my language skills; I have had my moments where I have bragged and blabbed about my skills. As talented as I have become at the language, though, I have had my moments of insecurity. Where someone might happen to ask me this question, “How many langaugeS do you speak?” When you hear a question phrased like that, it implies that surely the person thinks you know a lot of languages. However, I have always had to answer, rather reluctantly, “Just two,” as if it’s something I should be ashamed of! It’s not! In fact, it’s quite impressive to be an American to know more than one language fluently…and be from smack dab in the middle of the Midwest. Mexico is hundreds of miles away and Canada isn’t exactly close either to that part of the country. But…my brother and I managed to learn and love the Spanish language. Of the two of us, I am fluent in the language (in writing, speaking and listening) while my brother has a little ways to go to reach fluency. I officially became fluent in Spanish when I lived and studied in Spain for a semester…and I have just gotten better and better ever since that time in my life. I hope to be bilingual in the language by age 27 -my brother’s age now. And if you’re wondering, yes, there’s a HUGE difference from being fluent and being bilingual. I’ll get there one day soon and I hope the same for my brother.

Now that you know a little bit more of my background with Spanish, let me explain the challenges I have faced with the language and my brother’s experiences. The hardest thing for both of us to get used to is…that I am more knowledgeable and experienced in the language than my brother is. He got a three year head start in learning the language but had a couple years off when he didn’t go right into studying it post-high-school. I, for whatever reason, have been able to live in and travel to Spanish speaking countries and areas and be immersed in the language and he has just gotten the chance to travel this past year. I’ve also been studying and speaking it for the last 10 years. (10 YEARS – WOW, that’s so crazy to write it out!) I’ve almost spent half my life being involved with that wonderful language. I’ve also almost had a Spanish class every semester of college, sometimes two. I realize that we’re two different types of students: I am the more book-loving, studious type and my brother is more hands-on, learn-through-experience type. Our educational journeys have taken various twists and turns…and have led us to where we are today: I’m graduated and he’s still in school. It wasn’t what either of us had planned while we were still in high school but it’s okay. We’re both navigating the sometimes rough waters of ‘the younger sister teaching the older brother new tricks.’ The most important thing we’ve learned is that you should never underestimate what someone, regardless of their age, gender, race, religion, etc, can teach you. You will benefit greatly from keeping both your mind and ears open. I’m sure he hasn’t always wanted to listen to what I have say but he listens anyway. I never thought I would be the one with more experience in this important area of his life (his major and future career) but I believe I have a role to play.

For some brother and sister relationships, the younger sister showing up the older brother would greatly annoy the older brother and cause him to plug his ears and go, “Laaa laaa laaa,” and drown out his sister’s voice, haha. Luckily for me, Nathan and I have always had open lines of communication between each other and can literally tell each other anything. I know not every sibling relationship is like this but I’m grateful we have a relationship like this. This experience of ‘teaching the older brother new tricks’ has brought us closer together I believe. We now have even more things to talk about, teach each other and more places on our joint travel bucket list to visit. What’s more is that, I’m so glad that we had the chance to be in Spain together at the same time. That he got to teach me new things about a country I’m super obsessed with. How we got to swap travel stories as we traveled around different Spanish country sides at the same time. How we got to take a walk down memory lane with me in Sevilla and how he helped me leave a new mark on that marvelous city. A mark that said we both were there…and how we naturally have to go back!

I suppose the moral of this post is: don’t put your education in a box or on a timeline and don’t reject learning lessons the non-traditional way. Old or young, you have the power to impact someone’s life and learning even if you don’t feel qualified or called to do it. So..just do it. Open your mouth, share your story and learn from the experience. Chances are you won’t regret it!

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