A Rose By Any Other Name…

…would smell as sweet.” Romeo & Juliet.

Shakespeare was right in that no matter what we are called by others or what we choose to call ourselves, neither affects who or what we really are. That doesn’t seem to stop us, though, with good and bad name calling.

As humans, we are constantly identifying ourselves. Whether it be by our race, ethnicity, religion, citizenship, profession, hobby — whatever — we love picking out details about ourselves that we can use to define us. These characteristics make us a part of smaller, special societies, thereby showing our uniqueness in a world of 7 billion people.

I’ve only been in Barcelona for three days and already I’ve been given three new titles. Names that I never thought to call myself but nonetheless, they are accurate and they’re growing on me.

“¡Hablas español bien!

I’ve studied Spanish for over ten years. You’d think I wouldn’t be so nervous to speak with the locals, but alas, my terrible American accent makes me gun shy. However, from years of grammar drills, flashcards, essays and what have you, I do know a lot of vocabulary and can form coherent sentences pretty quickly.

This was said by a Hispanic girl at my hostel. She came into the room and asked a general question out of friendliness, to which I responded in Spanish. She asked where I was from and after I answered, “Los Estados Unidos”, she said that I spoke Spanish very well. Her tone was excited and impressed. Mine was surprised.

Even after years of study, two trips to Hispanic countries and numerous language exchange partners, I still had never thought of myself as a good Spanish speaker. I’ve never called myself fluent nor do I refer to my years of study to anyone unless specifically prompted. I see fluency as the point in which the speaker no longer has to mentally translate each word and my mind is still constantly running during a conversation. I’ve even read that the real turning point in language acquisition is when one starts dreaming in the second (or third) language.

Sadly, this has not happened to me yet.

But that doesn’t mean I should shortchange my abilities just because I’m self conscious. I can read. I can write. I can speak. Puedo hacer todos. I should start acting like it.

“You are all colleagues of each other.”

This may not seem like much, but I had previously only used this term to describe people I worked with. I had thought this phrase only applied to employment settings, so I only used it to describe coworkers.

In general, the academic consensus is that a “colleague” is an associate. Someone with whom you work in the same profession, department or staff. But profession does not implicitly imply a status of employment. “A profession is a vocation founded upon specialized educational training.” A teacher during our courses this week used that phrase to remind us that we are all professionals and colleagues amongst each other. Simply studying the subject at length makes one a professional.

I felt elated and yet a bit confused. This was obviously a compliment but I felt I had not earned it yet. She saw differently. I had to reconcile that I was still a professional regardless of whether or not I have job.

“You’re not a good scientist if you try to agree with everyone to avoid criticism.”

Scientist?! There’s a word I’d never thought of to describe myself. A faculty member this morning said that to be a good social scientist, one must pick a side. A social scientist. She was addressing us as scientists. I couldn’t believe it.

With each new title, I felt more and more confident. They all seemed to infer a certain amount of respect, I thought. In a matter of 72 hours, I had become a professional, bilingual, social scientist. What more could I want? Courage? Conviction?

Even if I don’t believe I can speak well, that doesn’t mean I don’t. Even if I see myself as unqualified that doesn’t mean I’m not. And just because I call myself a student doesn’t mean I’m not a scientist.

Moral of the story: Never undercut yourself or assume the worst. Labels are only good if they help you grow in positive direction, not hold you back.

With so many new hats to wear, who knows if I’ll have time to have a social life. (I’m sure my parents would be happy to know that.)

Who knows what I will become next.

“The world is mine oyster.”

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