Gabriel DeCaro of Apex has never traveled out of the country before, but he’s not nervous about stepping out of a plane in Mexico this summer. After all, he speaks the language.
His Spanish skills are what earned him the trip, in fact. For 12 days this summer, he’ll tour Mexico as one of just 24 recipients of the Bertie Green travel award, administered through the National Spanish Honor Society.
To apply, he had to write an essay – en Español, of course – about the contributions of a Mexican or Mexican-American person (Gabe chose musician Carlos Santana) and submit a video of an interview in which he spoke in Spanish about his own community service and activities.
When he found out he’d scored one of the coveted travel awards, he was delighted, both when he heard the news in a phone message and again the next day, when an announcement was made in his second-period Spanish class at Apex High School, where Gabe is a junior.
“They thought that it would be a surprise party, but I already knew,” he said. The posters of him in goofy poses that went up all around school to announce his achievement, however, were unexpected, he said.
While in Mexico, Gabe and other Bertie Green scholars will tour Mexico City, then head toward the border with Guatemala, visiting the Yucatan peninsula, Veracruz, Villa Hermosa, and Cancun.
“I’ve always wanted to visit Mexico and see the people and all of the wonderful architectural sites they have there,” said Gabe, who has a particular interest in Mesoamerican societies, such as the Aztecs. “We’re also going to Cancun, and that’s nice, I hear,” he added, laughing.
Besides Cancun, he’s most looking forward to spending time in Veracruz, home to many Mayan cultural sites.
“It’ll just be nice to finally see and touch the buildings instead of just reading about them in books,” he said.
Also springing to life from his studies will be the Spanish language itself, which Gabe said he’s been able to use a little with native speakers he encounters here. But he knows he has a lot to learn.
“In Spanish classes, they tend to teach you the king’s Spanish, the equivalent of the queen’s English,” he said, “so I won’t know a lot of the colloquialisms or slang terms that the people tend to use. Hopefully I’ll pick that up as I go along.”
Learning to converse naturally in Spanish may be an unexpected help in the career path Gabe is considering. He’s interested in physics, specifically fusion generation, and he knows that in a global society, he’ll work with scientists from all over the world, including Spanish-speaking nations.
“I’ll be able to interact with other scientists from those countries,” he said.
Language is key to interaction professionally and personally, Gabe figures.
“Until the world really conforms to one big linguistic code, it’s important to respect the diversity of other cultures,” he said. “When you talk to a native speaker from another country, once you speak their language, there’s a connection immediately. They have a respect for you as an American if you took the time in order to honor them by learning their language.”
In that spirit, Gabe plans to continue honing his Spanish skills, as well as possibly adding Russian and Chinese someday to help him communicate with other scientists.