Erin Osterhaus, Class of 2009
In the 7th grade, I had the choice between three elective courses: art, band, or Spanish. Not being particularly artistically or musically inclined–and given the fact that I thought people who could speak other languages possessed some sort of unfathomable magic skill–I picked the latter.
I never regretted it.
I loved Spanish from the very beginning, and continued studying the language throughout high school, taking both the AP Spanish 4 and 5 exams. In fact, I loved languages so much, I decided to tack on French, and completed four years of high school French in just two, acing the AP French 4 exam my senior year.
With all that in my back pocket, I had the makings–and the passion–to major in Spanish and French (and eventually to minor in German). The fact that I more or less lived in the modern languages department for my four years at Southwestern wasn’t really a surprise.
What was a surprise has been the opportunities for personal, academic, and professional growth that studying foreign languages has provided. As a Spanish major, I lived abroad in Costa Rica for a semester. I can say, without any qualification, that it was the best experience of my life. I learned a new language, a new culture, and made friends who I now consider extended family. But most importantly–I learned to be self-sufficient. There’s no equivalent experience that I can think of that forces you to “figure it out.” Alone in another country, without an established circle of family and friends, while speaking a language that is not your mother tongue–you really find out what you’re made of. It’s sink or swim.
Finding out that I was a swimmer is, I believe, one of the most important discoveries I ever made. It’s helped me in all aspects of my life, and I would never have found out my own inner strength if it hadn’t been for studying Spanish at Southwestern.
In addition to giving me the self-confidence essential to pursue my dreams, SU was the first and most necessary building block in my academic and professional careers. It gave me the foundational research and writing skills that have propelled me to where I am today. After writing two Capstones and a Spanish Honors Thesis, anything is easy–and everything seems possible.
So, my senior year at Southwestern, with the confidence garnered from my Spanish, French and German studies, I applied for a Fulbright Scholarship. And I got it. So, after graduation, I taught English in Germany for the 2009-2010 school year. That Fulbright gave me the boost I needed to get into Georgetown University, where I completed an MA in German and European Studies, as well as internships at several international NGOs and even the US Department of State. All those accomplishments were only possible because of the foundation of rigorous academic standards that SU had instilled in me. (In fact, MA courses at Georgetown seemed eerily easy compared with the coursework I completed as an undergrad.)
Then, after graduating from Georgetown in 2013, I moved back to Texas to be closer to family. I landed a job at Software Advice, a growing tech start-up in Austin, where I am now a Managing Editor on an innovative marketing team. Every single day I put the research and writing skills I learned as a Spanish major to use. With those skills, and the confidence gained from mastering another language and thriving on my own in foreign countries, I know that I’m ready for anything.