Remember Spanish class in high school? You tried your best not to fall asleep while the teacher went over the conjugation of hacer for the thousandth time. You’ll need to remember that conjugation for your papers. Otherwise, the Hispanic Studies major is a whole different ball game. You’re not just learning a language. You’re using it to learn about cultures and histories rarely covered in our mainstream American narrative. With the diverse skill set that comes from an interdisciplinary department and fluency in the U.S.’s second language, you can bust through the language barrier in any career you choose.
WHAT YOU’LL BE DOING
This isn’t your high school Spanish class. Put the flashcards down and get ready to dive into history, literature and culture, all while becoming bilingual. In order to develop a well-rounded view, you’ll take courses focused both on the history and culture of Spain and Latin America. If one attracts you more than the other, that’s where study abroad will take you. A semester or a year in a Spanish-speaking country is essential to bringing your language skills up a notch. Plus, you get to experience the culture firsthand. Hispanic Studies is a multidisciplinary major. That means you’ll find yourself discussing and writing about foreign film, art, sociology and political science— using primary sources instead of translations.
THE CLASSES YOU’LL TAKE
One step above intro, you can hone your comprehension and communication while learning about contemporary issues in Latin American cultures. You’ll study everything from human rights and LGBT to women’s movements. Creative writers can study fiction and poetry and even write their own. Vassar recent grad Ashley Barad said, “One of my favorite classes was Mihai’s seminar on Pablo Neruda’s poetry. We were pushed to read, interpret, and discuss the poetry, as well as recite and write our own pieces.” Taking it back to the roots, you can study Jews, Muslims and Christians in Medieval Spain, which is still quite a relevant topic today, as are the classes on immigration.
INTERNSHIPS FOR THE MAJOR
You can go into basically any field and apply Spanish to it. Many students intern in public schools, helping bilingual students with English. They also teach English abroad for specific summer programs. Others find internships at businesses large and small where they speak to clients and customers in Spanish on the phone. Government agencies double as another great place to hone analytical writing and communication skills. Students can use Spanish to work with citizens directly or to create projects focused on Hispanic populations. In other words? You’ll never need to worry about lacking all-important experience to fill your resume.
Hispanic Studies doesn’t have one set career path. So what really sets you apart? You can communicate and connect with a significant portion of the population that most grads can’t. As the Hispanic population continues to grow, employers everywhere look for bilingual applicants.
Hispanic Studies majors often find their niche teaching in bilingual public school classrooms. If kids aren’t your thing, instruct in programs for adults learning English. They can also use their language skills in school administration. And if you crave a bigger adventure, many teach English in foreign countries, like at the Cloud Forest School in Monteverde, Costa Rica.
There are far less Spanish speakers working in healthcare in the U.S. than using it, and the language barrier creates a big problem. Hispanic Studies majors can bridge this gap in all kinds of ways, whether as doctors, physicians, nurses, researchers or interpreters. Their language skills are obviously put to use. But the knowledge they have of other cultures—their history, their customs and even familiarity with contemporary music and films—help them connect with patients.
3. Social Work
Same deal as in healthcare—language skills and familiarity with Hispanic cultures give Hispanic Studies majors a huge edge in working with Latino communities, whether in group homes, shelters, counseling, outreach, you name it. Social workers can be much more effective and helpful when they can connect with individuals in their first language.
4. Business Management
Working in business management, you’ll develop the plans and policies to guide a business. Plus, you’ll coordinate human, financial and material resources. Hispanic Studies majors master this coordination by communicating with both Hispanic employees and clients on a stronger and more personal level. The skills they develop in writing, analysis and communication also apply to developing and carrying out policies even when not using Spanish.
5. International Relations
Hispanic Studies majors don’t just bridge the language barrier and cultural gap within the U.S. They can use their knowledge of the language and cultures as well as their communication skills to negotiate and build connections with businesses and governments in Hispanic countries. They can do so as a politician, consultant or journalist. If you want to get all cliché, the world is literally your oyster.
1. “Right now I work at a law office as a legal assistant, where I rarely use Spanish. However, the interpersonal communication and writing skills I acquired through this major are equally applicable in English and have contributed to my growth in this position.” – Ashley Barad, Vassar College Class of 2016
2. “Going into Vassar I knew that an immersion program would be the final push I needed to overcome my fears about speaking Spanish. Today I am more confident to try and I’m not afraid of sounding weird or making mistakes. I saw myself improve so much from the start of my semester in Madrid to its end.” – Maya Pruitt, Vassar College Class of 2016
3. “I found the Hispanic Studies department’s flexibility and breadth of subjects very accommodating for someone who wasn’t completely sure of what they wanted to do. My time in Madrid junior year was transformative. So much so that I moved here after graduation and am teaching English in a public school. What I got from Latin American and Latinx Studies was sort of an intersection of education, race and feminism.” – Ana Castillo James, Vassar College Class of 2016