Author Archives: Courtney Callahan

Paraphrasing and Problem Solving

While many people have a tendency to associate the act of problem solving with mathematics or with other STEM fields, foreign language is an often overlooked area of focus that contributes greatly to the acquisition of problem solving skills. As a Spanish and Portuguese student with an extensive background in the natural sciences, I can verify firsthand the impact that foreign language has had on my ability to solve difficult problems common in everyday life. While my biology, chemistry, and physics courses have certainly helped me improve my ability to solve problems within their respective fields, my foreign language courses have given me the critical thinking skills necessary to solve a variety of problems not only within the realm of foreign language but within life.

My decision to study abroad in Portugal was one of the most important choices I have made in my undergraduate career; the experience has instilled valuable lessons in me that I will take with me as I enter the workforce and as I continue to navigate my way through life. While studying foreign language in a classroom setting is important, studying a foreign language in a country that primarily speaks that language is a priceless experience that increases one’s proficiency not only in the target language itself, but in other life skills in general. One of the most challenging things I faced while studying abroad was effectively getting my point across with relatively little vocabulary in my target language. As a beginner level Portuguese student, I oftentimes could not say exactly what I wanted to say; I had to figure out how to incorporate the vocabulary I did know into sentences that conveyed the same message as the more complicated English versions that I had in my head. By the end of the trip, I was able to communicate with my Uber driver with ease; the skills that once frustrated me and took me a long time to achieve became second nature.

This capacity to problem solve, especially in the context of communication, is an important skill for nearly every aspect of life. The workforce needs people with the ability to think critically (which ultimately arises from the ability to problem solve); many employers search for employees that can provide innovative solutions to difficult situations and that can resolve any issue that may arise between them and their colleagues. In every social setting, effective communication is highly valued; the only way to effectively communicate is to be able to overcome challenging communication problems (and challenging communication problems will inevitably always arise). If a person acquires the ability to communicate effectively with someone in a foreign language, then their ability to solve communication errors in their own language exponentially increases. After returning to the United States, I noticed a decrease in misunderstandings between me and the people that I interacted with. If a misunderstanding did arise, I was able to quickly rephrase my thoughts into something that made better sense to the both of us. Foreign language does not only increase one’s ability to problem solve in the realm of communication, however. Ultimately, the thinking skills developed from problem solving communication errors carry over into nearly every other area in which problem solving is required.


An Office Overseas

Fulbright Personal Statement

Portugal, Study/Research Grant

“The statement should be a 1 page narrative that provides a picture of yourself as an individual․ It should deal with your personal history, family background, influences on your intellectual development, the educational, professional, and cultural opportunities (or lack of them) to which you have been exposed, and the ways in which these experiences have affected you․ Also include your special interests and abilities, career plans, and life goals, etc․ It should not be a recording of facts already listed on the application or an elaboration of your Statement of Grant Purpose․ It is more of a biography, but specifically related to you and your aspirations relative to the specific Fulbright Program to which you have applied․”


There are two main things that I look forward to learning about on a daily basis: foreign language and biology. As a child, my mother enrolled me in an immersive Spanish program in school. Initially, she expected me to hate it; much to her surprise, I came back gleefully regurgitating all of the words I had learned from the day. I haven’t stopped taking Spanish since. In college, I decided to take my love for foreign language a step farther and pursue learning Portuguese as well. I knew from a young age that I wanted to enter the science field, and I quickly realized that foreign language had to be involved somehow as well. I hope to someday combine these two interests in my career; I would like to be a medical doctor “without borders.”  Although those two subjects are my main passions, I love learning about anything and everything, and I am aware that some of the best lessons are not learned academically.

One of the most influential experiences I’ve had was at a local free clinic. The clinic needed Spanish-speaking volunteers; approximately 90% of the clinic’s patients were Latinx, with Spanish as their native tongue. Only about 12% of the doctors could speak Spanish, however. As a Spanish and Portuguese student with a passion for the medical field, I knew the opportunity was one I could not resist. Upon arriving at the clinic, I quickly realized that speaking/listening to a foreign language in an academic setting is much different than speaking/listening to a foreign language in the “real world.” Although the task was initially overwhelming, the challenge ultimately exposed me to a wide variety of new vocabulary and prepared me for real-life application scenarios that I am likely to come across as a professional in the medical field abroad. Perhaps most importantly, the experience allowed me to connect with my local community in significant ways that I otherwise would not have been able to do.

My “real-life” experience in the clinic inspired me to apply to a study abroad in Lisbon, Portugal. After listening to various Fado performances and learning about Portugal’s restrictive past under António de Oliveira Salazar’s ruling, I was inspired to conduct research on the relationship between Fado music and the Estado Novo regime in 20th century Portugal. After researching the complex history of Fado music in Portugal and its relationship with politics over the years, I realized that there is so much more to explore about the topic than a simple undergraduate thesis could cover. Fulbright would give me the invaluable opportunity to continue my research while also developing Portuguese cultural and linguistic knowledge. The experience would allow me to be a better and more qualified candidate for my future career; most importantly, it would broaden my horizons, expand my knowledge on critical historical events, and enable me to connect even more to Portuguese-speaking communities.

Breaking Barriers Abroad

Studying abroad is highly recommended for students studying foreign languages and cultures; in fact, depending on their major, some students are required by their department to study abroad. Unfortunately, people often have misconceptions about academic trips to foreign countries. Many parents tend to believe that studying abroad is a student’s excuse for exploring the world. Professors frequently assume that education is not as sophisticated abroad, and therefore foreign classes should not be accepted for credit. The academic value of these trips is frequently downplayed. Even students themselves can have false ideas about studying abroad; it is sometimes assumed that the experience will be about partying, traveling Europe (or another continent), and messing around with friends. While having fun on the trip is certainly possible (and encouraged!), the academic work is rigorous and requires just as much dedication as any other class. Apart from written work, however, there are many chances to have unique cultural encounters that are not possible to obtain when staying in one’s home country. These experiences are invaluable and extremely beneficial to a foreign languages and cultures education. If given the opportunity, any student studying a foreign language/culture should study abroad.

Perhaps the most obvious reason to study abroad is the benefit that complete immersion has to offer. Surrounding oneself with a target language every day (and all day) immediately opens the door to a more genuine and natural form of learning. While total immersion sounds a little intimidating, the effect that it has on increasing one’s verbal and auditory fluency is invaluable. When studying abroad, students often find the first one to two weeks to be frustrating, as the locals there may speak at a different pace or with a different accent than what they are used to hearing in their language classes. The mind adapts extremely quickly, however, and all of a sudden they realize that they are able to understand most of what is being said to them; their ability to comprehend others as well as their ability to respond increases exponentially. The personal conversations and interactions that they take part in abroad will be more realistic than the conversations they have purely in an academic setting; while this helps tremendously with learning the language itself, it also gives students exposure to real life situations that are useful when learning how to apply foreign language in the context of a professional setting.

The cultural exposure that one has when studying abroad is incomparable to anything that is taught in the classroom.  Of course, students studying a foreign language learn a lot about the culture of the countries in which their target language is spoken, but learning a culture and living it are two very different things. Much of the day to day quirks and slang that exist abroad are not addressed in a classroom setting; adapting local phrases and gestures into one’s vocabulary makes conversing more sincere and relatable. Language and culture go hand in hand; the more cultural knowledge one acquires, the better able they are to understand why certain words came about and the meaning behind certain phrases and dialogues. In this sort of setting, open-mindedness is valued and students often return feeling less culturally biased and more understanding.

Overall, studying abroad plays an important role in the academic trajectory of a foreign languages and cultures student because it prepares them in both an educational and applicational manner; it challenges them to dig deeper than they would in a normal university class and truly become a part of the culture that they are studying. Their newfound knowledge will be taken with them not only back to their university, but into their eventual workplaces as well (wherever in the world that workplace may be).

Portugal Summer Study Abroad 2019- Palácio Nacional da Pena

Olá gente bonita!

My name is Courtney Callahan and I am a senior majoring in Biology and Spanish/Portuguese. I am from Orange, CA (near L.A.), but I was born in Canton, OH. I have a passion for medicine and foreign language; I hope to combine these passions by working as a physician abroad. I have a lot of familiarity with Spanish and Portuguese, but I can read a little French as well. In my free time, I love practicing more uncommon languages on Duolingo such as Hawaiian and Gaelic.I am obsessed with anything rose scented and I adore Cuban food! 

Languages and Life Lessons

Oftentimes, when someone thinks of a liberal arts education, they think of an education that requires the study of multiple subjects that have nothing to do with each other. Too frequently, STEM majors get criticized for “wasting their time” on studying foreign language, and even students within the humanities realm are discouraged from putting too much effort into the acquisition of languages that are not essential to their field (especially the rarer languages). It is likely, however, that people who downplay the importance of studying foreign language simply aren’t aware of its many benefits.

Snapshot of A Torre de Belém from study abroad in Portugal 2019                 

Some of the most important lessons I have learned in life have come from studying foreign language. The skills that I have developed from learning foreign languages can be applied to any major or job, regardless if it is in the realm of humanities or STEM. Learning how to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes is an essential life skill. Too often, students focus too much on perfection and are not exposed to failing. When this happens, they are unable to constructively cope with criticism and may not be able to improve their performance as well as someone who is experienced with learning from their errors. When studying a foreign language, making mistakes is inevitable. It is from these mistakes, however, that growth is achieved. These small mistakes train the brain to perceive errors differently. Learning a foreign language allows a relatively quick payoff; the more one makes errors when speaking and writing the more they are able to fix their mistakes and perform with increased proficiency. This way, when students who have studied foreign language enter the job market (or enter graduate programs), they are able to enter with confidence and resiliency.

The development of interpersonal skills is critical not only in a liberal arts education but in life as a whole. It is not possible to live life without interacting with people; in fact, even the most qualified professionals are not accepted into a certain program or job offer because they were lacking in people skills. Learning a foreign language requires the ability to interact with people and concisely formulate what one has to say. Overcoming language barriers is difficult; if one is able to successfully work around cultural and linguistic differences, they are likely more equipped to resolve issues in their native tongue. This also improves one’s critical thinking skills, which is useful when making compromises in the work force.

Perhaps most importantly, studying foreign language decreases cultural biases and contributes to open-mindedness. Unfortunately, when people form racist judgements and hateful assumptions, it is often because they have not been around people that are different from them. Learning about another culture and language promotes a deeper understanding and connection to others that one would not normally have. The more people connect and learn about one another, the more they realize humans are not so different after all (regardless of race and culture). Studying foreign language is crucial not only for a liberal arts education; it betters society as a whole.