The importance of embracing a new culture

Trey Espinosa is a senior Philosophy, Politics and the Public. He is a guest writer from Louisville, Ky.

In 2001, the California Milk Processor Board, a client for whom the famous “Got Milk?” advertising campaign was produced, sponsored an ad aimed at Latina women. The campaign translated the slogan “Got Milk?” to “Tienes Leche?” which in a very literal translation means “Do you have milk?” In Spainish, however, if you ask someone “tienes leche?,” you are asking if someone is lactating.

This ad was made into a mockery among the Latinx and Hispanic communities simply because the California Milk Processor Board failed to consult someone familiar with Spanish and Latin/Hispanic culture. The ad was received so poorly that 98% of Latin people surveyed in California were familiar with the ad campaign. This awkward blunder illustrates why it is so important for college graduates to understand not only their own daily surroundings, but also the world around them and its basic interworkings.

In order to keep up and, more importantly, get ahead in our increasingly globalized society, it is this understanding that is essential for success and, in this case, to evade embarrassment. Knowing a foreign language or understanding the norms of another culture can propel young professionals far into their career and make them more qualified for nearly every job they could ever want. The best and, frankly the easiest, way to achieve an understanding of a different society is to study abroad while in college. Xavier has made study abroad accessible to all students with short and long term programs. Many cost the exact same as a normal semester on campus. Really, there are not many excuses to not study abroad in some capacity while at Xavier.

            In my case, I decided I wanted to study abroad long before my college career started. I was interested in living in a foreign country to experience a culture outside middle of America. After declaring a Spanish minor in my first year at Xavier, it was only natural to search for a Spanish-speaking country to better my language skills. I also determined I wanted to go to Europe because I wanted to travel to other countries while I was abroad and Europe arguably offers the easiest intercountry travel among the continents thanks to the EU’s open border policy. This left me with an obvious choice of Spain.

I studied at the Universidad de Granada in Granada, Spain. I lived with a family: a grandmother, Carmen, a daughter, Elke, and a granddaughter, Sabrina, none of whom spoke a word of English. At first, their thick southern Spanish accents coupled with colloquialisms unfamiliar to my formal teaching in Latin American Spanish made communicating difficult. At times, I was overwhelmed by what I didn’t know, but slowly I became more confident in expressing myself to them. While I did go to school for formal instruction, my family in Spain were my true teachers of the language and the culture. I learned more at the kitchen table than at the desks of the university.

Reflecting on my semester in Spain, I was given the opportunity to immerse myself in a culture of which I am not part. I greatly improved my ability to speak and understand Spanish, even that of from southern Spain, though I still would not consider myself fluent in the language. However, I believe I am qualified to work for the “Got Milk?” campaign to avoid another “are you lactating?” fiasco. My hope is that more Xavier students will study abroad knowing that this experience will only enrich their lives and better prepare them for their future.